The Echo Man
Lie down and die.
For every light there is shadow. For every sound, silence.
From the moment he got the call Detective Kevin Francis Byrne had a premonition this night would forever change his life, that he was headed to a place marked by a profound evil, leaving only darkness in its wake.
Byrne glanced at Jimmy. Detective Jimmy Purify, sitting in the passenger seat of the bashed and battered department-issue Ford, was just a few years older than Byrne, but something in the man's eyes held deep wisdom, a hard-won experience that transcended time spent on the job and spoke instead of time earned. They'd known each other a long time, but this was their first full tour as partners.
'I'm ready,' Byrne said.
They got out of the car and walked to the front entrance of the sprawling, well-tended Chestnut Hill mansion. Here, in this exclusive section of the northwest part of the city, there was history at every turn, a neighborhood designed at a time when Philadelphia was second only to London as the largest English-speaking city in the world.
The first officer on the scene, a rookie named Timothy Meehan, stood inside the foyer, cloistered by coats and hats and scarves perfumed with age, just beyond the reach of the cold autumn wind cutting across the grounds.
Byrne had been in Officer Meehan's shoes a handful of years earlier and remembered well how he'd felt when detectives arrived, the tangle of envy and relief and admiration. Chances were slight that Meehan would one day do the job Byrne was about to do. It took a certain breed to stay in the trenches, especially in a city like Philly, and most uniformed cops, at least the smart ones, moved on.
Byrne signed the crime-scene log and stepped into the warmth of the atrium, taking in the sights, the sounds, the smells. He would never again enter this scene for the first time, never again breathe an air so red with violence. Looking into the kitchen, he saw a blood-splattered killing room, scarlet murals on pebbled white tile, the torn flesh of the victim jigsawed on the floor.
While Jimmy called for the medical examiner and crime-scene unit, Byrne walked to the end of the entrance hall. The officer standing there was a veteran patrolman, a man of fifty, a man content to live without ambition. At that moment Byrne envied him. The cop nodded toward the room on the other side of the corridor.
And that was when Kevin Byrne heard the music.
She sat in a chair on the opposite side of the room. The walls were covered with a forest-green silk; the floor with an exquisite burgundy Persian. The furniture was sturdy, in the Queen Anne style. The air smelled of jasmine and leather.
Byrne knew the room had been cleared, but he scanned every inch of it anyway. In one corner stood an antique curio case with beveled glass doors, its shelves arrayed with small porcelain figurines. In another corner leaned a beautiful cello. Candlelight shimmered on its golden surface.
The woman was slender and elegant, in her late twenties. She had burnished russet hair down to her shoulders, eyes the color of soft copper. She wore a long black gown, sling-back heels, pearls. Her makeup was a bit garish – theatrical, some might say – but it flattered her delicate features, her lucent skin.
When Byrne stepped fully into the room the woman looked his way, as if she had been expecting him, as if he might be a guest for Thanksgiving dinner, some discomfited cousin just in from Allentown or Ashtabula. But he was neither. He was there to arrest her.
'Can you hear it?' the woman asked. Her voice was almost adolescent in its pitch and resonance.
Byrne glanced at the crystal CD case resting on a small wooden easel atop the expensive stereo component. Chopin: Nocturne in G Major. Then he looked more closely at the cello. There was fresh blood on the strings and fingerboard, as well as on the bow lying on the floor. Afterwards, she had played.
The woman closed her eyes. 'Listen,' she said. 'The blue notes.'
Byrne listened. He has never forgotten the melody, the way it both lifted and shattered his heart.
Moments later the music stopped. Byrne waited for the last note to feather into silence. 'I'm going to need you to stand up now, ma'am,' he said.
When the woman opened her eyes Byrne felt something flicker in his chest. In his time on the streets of Philadelphia he had met all types of people, from soulless drug dealers, to oily con men, to smash-and-grab artists, to hopped-up joyriding kids. But never before had he encountered anyone so detached from the crime they had just committed. In her light brown eyes Byrne saw demons caper from shadow to shadow.
The woman rose, turned to the side, put her hands behind her back. Byrne took out his handcuffs, slipped them over her slender white wrists, and clicked them shut.
She turned to face him. They stood in silence now, just a few inches apart, strangers not only to each other, but to this grim pageant and all that was to come.
'I'm scared,' she said.
Byrne wanted to tell her that he understood. He wanted to say that we all have moments of rage, moments when the walls of sanity tremble and crack. He wanted to tell her that she would pay for her crime, probably for the rest of her life – perhaps even -with her life – but that while she was in his care she would be treated with dignity and respect.
He did not say these things.
'My name is Detective Kevin Byrne,' he said. 'It's going to be all right.'
It was November 1, 1990. Nothing has been right since.
Sunday, October 24
Can you hear it?
Listen closely. There, beneath the clatter of the lane, beneath the ceaseless hum of man and machine, you will hear the sound of the slaughter, the screaming of peasants in the moment before death, the plea of an emperor with a sword at his throat.
Can you hear it?
Step onto hallowed ground, where madness has made the soil luxuriant with blood, and you will hear it: Nanjing, Thessaloniki, Warsaw.
If you listen closely you will realize it is always there, never fully silenced, not by prayer, by law, by time. The history of the world, and its annals of crime, is the slow, sepulchral music of the dead.
Can you hear it?
I hear it. I am the one who walks in shadow, ears tuned to the night. I am the one who hides in rooms where murder is done, rooms that will never again be quieted, each corner now and forever sheltering a whispering ghost. I hear fingernails scratching granite walls, the drip of blood onto scarred tile, the hiss of air drawn into a mortal chest wound. Sometimes it all becomes too much, too loud, and I must let it out.
I am the Echo Man.
I hear it all.
On Sunday morning I rise early, shower, take my breakfast at home. I step onto the street. It is a glorious fall day. The sky is clear and crystalline blue, the air holds the faint smell of decaying leaves.
As I walk down Pine Street I feel the weight of the three killing instruments at the small of my back. I study the eyes of passersby, or at least those who will meet my gaze. Every so often I pause, eavesdrop, gathering the sounds of the past. In Philadelphia Death has lingered in so many places. I collect its spectral sounds the way some men collect fine art, or war souvenirs, or lovers.
Like many who have toiled in the arts over the centuries my work has gone largely unnoticed. That is about to change. This will be my magnum opus, that by which all such works are judged forever. It has already begun.
I turn up my collar and continue down the lane.
Zig, zig, zig.
I rattle through the crowded streets like a white skeleton.
At just after eight a.m. I enter Fitler Square, finding the expected gathering – bikers, joggers, the homeless who have dragged themselves here from a nearby passageway. Some of these homeless creatures will not live through the winter. Soon I will hear their last breaths.
I stand near the ram sculpture at the eastern end of the square, watching, waiting. Within minutes I see them., mother and daughter.
They are just what I need.
I walk across the square, sit on a bench, take out my newspaper, halve and quarter it. The killing instruments are uncomfortable at my back. I shift my weight as the sounds amass: the flap and squawk of pigeons congregating around a man eating a bagel, a taxi's rude horn, the hard thump of a bass speaker. Looking at my watch, I see that time is short. Soon my mind will be full of screams and I will be unable to do what is necessary.
I glance at the young mother and her baby, catch the woman's eye, smile.
'Good morning,' I say.
The woman smiles back. 'Hi.'
The baby is in an expensive jogging stroller, the kind with a rainproof hood and mesh shopping basket beneath. I rise, cross the path, glance inside the pram. It's a girl, dressed in a pink flannel one-piece and matching hat, swaddled in a snow-white blanket. Bright plastic stars dangle overhead.
'And who is this little movie star?' I ask.
The woman beams. 'This is Ashley.'
'Ashley. She is beautiful.'
I am careful not to get too close. Not yet. 'How old is she?'
'She's four months.'
'Four months is a great age,' I reply with a wink. '
I may have peaked around four months.'
The woman laughs.
I glance at the stroller. The baby smiles at me. In her angelic face I see so much. But sight does not drive me. The world is crammed full of beautiful images, breathtaking vistas, all mostly forgotten by the time the next vista presents itself I have stood before the Taj Mahal, Westminster Abbey, the Grand Canyon. I once spent an afternoon in front of Picasso's Guernica. All these glorious images faded into the dim corners of memory within a relatively short period of time. Yet I recall with exquisite clarity the first time I heard someone scream in anguish, the yelp of a dog struck by a car, the dying breath of a young police officer bleeding out on a hot sidewalk.
'Is she sleeping through the night yet?'
'Not quite,' the woman says.
'My daughter slept through the night at two months. Never had a problem with her at all.'
I reach slowly into my right coat pocket, palm what I need, draw it out. The mother stands just a few feet away, on my left. She does not see what I have in my hand.
The baby kicks her feet, bunching her blanket. I wait. I am nothing if not patient. I need the little one to be tranquil and still. Soon she calms, her bright blue eyes scanning the sky.
With my right hand I reach out, slowly, not wanting to alarm the mother. I place a finger into the center of the baby's left palm. She closes her tiny fist around my finger and gurgles. Then, as I had hoped, she begins to coo.
All other sounds cease. In that moment it is just the baby, and this sacred respite from the dissonance that fills my waking hours.
I touch the Record button, keeping the microphone near the little girl's mouth for a few seconds, gathering the sounds, collecting a moment which would otherwise be gone in an instant.
Time slows, lengthens, like a lingering coda.
I withdraw my hand. I do not want to stay too long, nor alert the mother to any danger. I have a full day ahead of me, and cannot be deterred.
'She has your eyes,' I say.
The little girl does not, and it is obvious. But no mother ever refuses such a compliment.
I glance at the sky, at the buildings that surround Fitler Square. It is time. Well, it was lovely talking to you.'
You, too,' replies the woman. ''Enjoy your day.'
'Thank you,' I say. I'm sure I will.'
I reach out, take one of the baby's tiny hands in mine, give it a little shake. 'It was nice meeting you, little Ashley.'
Mother and daughter giggle.
I am safe.
A few moments later, as I walk up Twenty-third Street, toward Delancey, I pull out the digital recorder, insert the mini-plug for the earbuds, play back the recording. Good quality, a minimum of background noise. The baby's voice is precious and clear.
As I slip into the van and head to South Philadelphia I think about this morning, how everything is falling into place.
Harmony and melody live inside me, side by side, violent storms on a sun-blessed shore.
I have captured the beginning of life.
Now I will record its end.
'My name is Paulette, and I'm an alcoholic.'
She looked out over the group. The meeting was larger than it had been the previous week, nearly doubled in size from the first time she attended the Second Verse group at the Trinity United Methodist Church nearly a month earlier. Before that she had been to three meetings at three different places – North Philly, West Philly, South Philly – but, as she soon learned, most people who attend AA meetings regularly find a group, and a vibe, with which they are comfortable, and stay with it.
There were twenty or so people sitting in a loose circle, equally divided between men and women, young and old, nervous and calm. The youngest person was a woman around twenty; the oldest, a man in his seventies, sitting in a wheelchair. It was also a diverse group – black, white, Hispanic, Asian. Addiction, of course, had no prejudice, no gender or age issues. The size of the group indicated that the holidays were rapidly approaching, and if anything pressed the glowing red buttons of inadequacy, resentment, and rage, it was the holidays.
The coffee, as always, was crap.
'Some of you have probably seen me here before,' she began, trying to affect a tone of lightness and cheer. 'Ah, who the hell am I kidding? Maybe I'm wrong about that. Maybe it's ego, right? Maybe I think I'm the shit, and no one else does. Maybe that's the problem.
Anyway, today is the first time I've really had the balls to speak. So, here I am, and you have me. At least for a little while. Lucky you.'
As she told her story, she scanned the faces. There was a kid in his mid-twenties on the right – killer blue eyes, ripped jeans, a multicolor Ed Hardy T-shirt, biceps of note. More than once she looked over at him and saw him scanning her body. He may have been an alcoholic but he was still most definitely on the make. Next to him was a woman in her fifties, a few decades of heavy use mapped in the broken veins on her face and neck. She rolled a sweaty cellphone over and over in her hands, tapped one foot to some long-silenced beat. A few chairs down from her was a petite blonde in a green Temple University sweatshirt, athletic and toned, the weight of the world just a snowflake on her shoulder. Next to her sat Nestor, the group leader. Nestor had opened the meeting with his own short and sad tale, then asked if there was anyone else who wanted to talk.
My name is Paulette.
When she finished her story everyone clapped politely. After that other people rose, talked, cried. More applause.
When all their stories were exhausted, every emotion wrung, Nestor reached out his hands to either side. 'Let's give thanks and praise.'
They joined hands, said a short prayer, and the meeting was over.
'It's not as easy as it looks, is it?'
She turned around. It was Killer Blue Eyes. At just after noon they stood outside the main church doors, between a pair of emaciated brown evergreens, already struggling through the season.
'I don't know,' she replied. 'It looked pretty hard to begin with.'
Killer Blue Eyes laughed. He had put on a short cognac leather jacket. A pair of amber Serengeti sunglasses were clipped to the neck of his T-shirt. He wore thick-soled black boots.
'Yeah. I guess you're right,' he said. He clasped his hands in front of him, rocked back slightly on his heels. His good-guy, not-to-worry pose. 'It's been a while since I've done it for the first time.' He held out his hand. 'Your name is Paulette, right?'
'And I'm an alcoholic.'
Killer Blue Eyes laughed again. 'I'm Danny. Me too.'
'Nice to meet you, Danny.' They shook hands.
'I can tell you this, though,' he continued, unasked. 'It gets easier.'
'The sobriety part?'
'I wish I could say that. What I meant was the talking part. Once you get comfortable with the group it gets a little easier to tell your stories.'
'Stories?' she asked. 'Plural? I thought I was done.'
'You're not done,' he said. 'It's a process. It goes on for a long time.'
'Okay. Like, how long?'
'Did you see that guy in the red flannel shirt?'
Danny was talking about the older man, the guy in his seventies, the guy in the wheelchair. 'What about him?'
'He's been coming to meetings for thirty-six years.'
'Jesus. He hasn't had a drink in thirty-six years?'
'That's what he says.'
'And he still wants one?'
'So he says.'
Danny looked at his watch, an oversized Fossil chronograph. The move looked just slightly less calculated and rehearsed than it probably was. 'You know, I don't have to be at work for a couple of hours. Can I buy you a cup of coffee?'
She looked appropriately suspicious. 'I don't know.'
Danny put up both hands. 'No strings. Just coffee.'
She smiled. 'Irish?'
'Bad Paulette. Bad, bad Paulette.'
She laughed. 'Let's go.'
They picked a place on Germantown Avenue, sat at a table near the window, small-talked – movies, fashion, the economy. She had a fruit salad. He had coffee and a cheeseburger. Neither would rate Zagat's.
After fifteen minutes or so she held up her iPhone, tapped the touch screen. She did not dial a number, did not send a text or an email, did not make an entry onto her contact list or schedule something in iCal. Instead, she took a picture of Killer Blue Eyes, having earlier in the day deselected the option that attached the sound of a clicking camera to the operation. When she was done she looked at the cellphone's screen in mock frustration, as if something was wrong. Nothing was wrong. The photograph, which the young man could not see, was perfect.
'Problem?' he asked.
She shook her head. 'No. It's just that I can never get much of a signal around here.'
'Maybe you can get a signal outside,' Danny said. He stood up, slipped on his jacket. 'Want to give it a shot?'
She hit one more button, waited until the progress bar made its way fully to the right, and said: 'Sure.'
'Come on,' Danny said. 'I'll get the check.'
They walked slowly down the street, wordlessly window browsing.
'Don't you have to make that call?' Danny asked.
She shook her head. 'Not really. It's just my mother. She's just going to give me shit about what a loser I am. I can wait.'
'We might be related,' Danny said. 'Like closely related. I think we have the same mother.'
'I thought you looked familiar.'
Danny looked around. 'So, where are you parked?'
'Just up this way.'
'Would you like me to walk you to your car?'
She stopped. 'Oh no.'
'You're not a gentleman, are you?' she accused him flirtatiously.
Danny raised a hand, three fingers up, Boy Scout style. 'I swear to God I'm not.'
She laughed. 'Sure.'
They turned the corner into a dim alleyway, heading toward the parking lot. Before they took three steps she saw the glint of the revolver.
With a strong forearm Danny slammed her against the bricks and brought his face very close to hers.
'You see that red Sebring over there?' he whispered, nodding toward the Chrysler parked near the end of the alley. 'Here's what we're going to do. We're going to walk over there and you're going to get in that car. If you give me any trouble, make a single sound, so help me God I will shoot you in the fucking face. Do you hear me?'
'Do you doubt what I say?'
She shook her head.
'I want you to say it out loud. I want you to say "I understand, Danny.'"
'I understand, Danny.'
'Good. Good,' he said. 'Paulette.' He kept a hand on her, leaned away. 'You know, you've got great tits. You wear this loose shit to hide them, but I can tell. And you're a goddamn drunk. Do you know what a plus that is?'
She just stared.
'Me? I've never had a drink in my life. I just have this weakness for weak women. Always have.'
He ran his left hand slowly over her right hip, his other hand remaining on the butt of the gun. He smiled.
'I think we're going to do it right here. What do you think of that?'
'You won't hurt me?'
'No,' he said. 'But admit it, Paulette. There is something exciting about doing it in public. Especially with a total stranger.' He pulled down his zipper. 'But that's why you drink, isn't it? Because you hate yourself? Because you're a whore?'
She didn't know if it was really a question. She remained silent. He continued.
'Of course it is. And you know what? I bet you've gotten plenty loaded over the years, and fucked plenty of guys in alleys. Right?'
This was definitely a question. When she didn't answer he took the revolver from his waistband and stuck it between her legs. Hard.
'Answer… the fucking… question.'
He ran the barrel of the gun up and down, applying even more pressure. 'Say it.'
'I've fucked a lot of guys in alleys.'
'And you loved it.'
'And I loved it.'
'Because you're a fucking whore.'
'Because I'm a fucking whore.'
'I thought so.' He slipped the gun back into his waistband. 'You know that other girl? She gave me a hard time. She didn't have to die.'
'The other girl?'
'The redhead. The fat one. Marcy something, the papers said. Smelled like a cheap slut. Which she was, of course.'
He leaned in, sniffed her hair.
'You don't smell cheap,' he said. 'You smell good.'
A shadow crawled slowly across the ground, pooling at their feet. Danny noticed, spun around.
Behind him, a few paces away, stood the petite blonde from the AA meeting, the one wearing the green Temple University hooded sweatshirt. In her hand was a Glock 17, pointed at the center of Danny's chest.
'My name is Nicci,' the blonde said. 'And I'm a police officer.'
'Hi, Nicci!' Detective Jessica Balzano responded.
During the previous three weeks, on her undercover assignment to catch the AA Killer, Jessica had been Paulette. No last name. Just Paulette. She discovered early on in the assignment that no one had a last name at AA.
Behind Detective Nicolette Malone stood two other detectives, as well as a veteran patrolman named Stan Keegan. At either end of the alley were a pair of sector cars.
Danny looked at Jessica, his hands trembling now. 'You're a cop?'
Jessica stepped back, drew her own weapon from a holster at the small of her back, leveled it. 'Put your hands behind your head and interlace your fingers.'
Danny hesitated, his eyes shifting from side to side.
'Do it now.''
'Suit yourself,' Jessica said. 'But if you don't do what I tell you to do, you will die where you stand. In an Ed Hardy T-shirt, no less. With your zipper down. Your call.'
The suspect, whose real name was Lucas Anthony Thompson, seemed to realize his two choices. He was leaving this alley either in handcuffs or on a gurney. In an instant his will was broken. His shoulders sagged. He put his hands on top of his head, fingers interlaced.
Jessica had seen it a hundred times. And it never failed to warm her heart.
Nicci Malone stepped forward, pulled the weapon from the suspect's waistband, handed it to Officer Keegan, who put it in an evidence bag. Nicci then swept the suspect's legs from beneath him. He hit the ground hard, face down. An instant later Nicci dropped a knee into the center of Thompson's back, cuffed him.
'It's almost impossible you're this fucking stupid,' Nicci said.
Jessica holstered her gun, stepped forward. Each grabbing an arm, the two detectives pulled the suspect roughly to his feet.
'You are under arrest for the murder of Marcia Jane Kimmelman,' Jessica said. She read him his Miranda rights. 'Do you understand these rights?'
Thompson nodded, still dazed.
'You have to answer out loud,' she said. 'You have to say "yes."'
'Actually, I want you to say, "Yes, I understand, Detective Goddess Balzano.'"
Thompson didn't say it. He was still a bit stunned.
Ah, well, Jessica thought. Worth a shot. She reached into her pocket, pulled out the small digital recorder. She rewound the recording, clicked Play.
You know that other girl? She gave me a hard time. She didn't have to die.
Jessica clicked off the recorder. Thompson hung his head.
They had plenty with which to charge him. An eyewitness, a good sampling of DNA, ballistics. The recording was just icing on the cake. The DAs office loved recordings. Sometimes a recording made all the difference in the world.
As uniformed officers led Thompson away, Officer Stan Keegan leaned against the brick wall, crossed his arms over his kettle-drum chest, a Cheshire-cat grin on his face.
'What's so funny?' Jessica asked.
'You two,' he said, nodding at her and Nicci. 'I'm just trying to figure out which one of you is Batman and which one is Robin.'
'Batman? Dream on, mortal,' Jessica said. 'I'm Wonder Woman.'
'And I'm She Hulk,' Nicci added.
The two women bumped fists.
There was a young man standing next to the sector car, talking to one of the uniformed officers. He was tall, dark-haired, lanky, and had about him a nervous energy. He carried an expensive-looking digital video camera. Jessica soon realized who he was, and what he was doing there.
She had gotten the memo the week before, and had forgotten all about it. Somebody from Penn State was making a documentary about the homicide unit – a day-in-the-life sort of thing – and the directive from high on high was to cooperate. The memo said the filmmaker would be there for a week.
As Jessica approached, the young man noticed her. He smoothed his hair with his free hand, stood a little taller.
'Hi,' he said. 'I'm David Albrecht.'
They shook hands. David Albrecht wore a gold crucifix around his neck, along with a Nittany Lions long-sleeved T-shirt. He was cleanshaven, save for a sparse bleached-white soul patch beneath his lower lip. It was the only thing keeping his face from being feminine.
'I'd know you anywhere,' he said. He pumped her arm with a little too much enthusiasm.
'Really? And why is that?' Jessica asked, retrieving her limb before it was shaken off.
Albrecht smiled. 'I do my research. You were in that Philadelphia
Magazine feature a few years ago, the one about the "new breed" of female detective. Remember that?'
Jessica remembered the article well. She had fought against it but had lost the battle. She was not crazy about having details of her personal life made public. Police officers, especially detectives, were big enough targets for crazies as it was.
'I remember,' Jessica said.
'And I followed the Rosary Killer case pretty closely.'
'Of course, I was in high school then,' Albrecht said. 'I went to a Catholic school. We were all pretty mesmerized by the story.'
High school, Jessica thought. This kid was in high school then. It seemed like yesterday to her.
'By the way, that was a great photo of you on the cover of the mag,' he added. 'Real Lara Croft. You were kind of a pinup for a lot of the guys at my school for a while.'
'So, you're making a movie?' Jessica asked, hoping to get off the subject of the article.
'Gonna try. Making a feature is a lot different from making a short. I've done mainly webisodes so far.'
Jessica wasn't really sure what a webisode was.
'You should stop by my site and check some of them out,' Albrecht said. 'I think you'll like them.'
He handed her a card bearing his name and a website address.
Jessica did the polite thing, scanning the card before putting it into her pocket. 'Well,' she said. 'It was great meeting you, David. Anything you need.' She didn't mean it, of course. She pointed at the just-arrived police transport van. 'I've got to get this started.'
Albrecht held up a hand. 'No sweat. Just wanted to introduce myself.' He smoothed his hair again. 'I'll be around, but you won't even notice me. I promise not to get in your way. I'm a mouse.'
A mouse, Jessica thought. We'll see about that.
Two hours later, with paperwork completed, reports filed, and suspect delivered to the police administration building at Eighth and Race Streets – commonly known as the Roundhouse – the team met at a restaurant called the Hot Potato Cafe on Girard Avenue.
In addition to Jessica and Nicci Malone there was veteran detective Nick Palladino, as well as a relatively new detective in the unit, Dennis Stansfield. Stansfield was in his early forties and was God's gift to women, at least in his own mind. His clearance-rack suits never quite fit, he wore too much cologne and, among his many annoying habits, he seemed to be in constant motion, as if he always had somewhere else to be, something else to do that was far more important than talking to you.
He had only been with the unit for a few months and had yet to make a friend. No one wanted to work with him. His abrasive personality was only one of the reasons. His sloppy work habits, and his uncanny ability to get a witness to clam up immediately, were two others.
Jessica and Nicci held down one side of the table, while Stansfield and Nick Palladino sat on the other.
Nick Palladino – whom everyone called Dino – was a lifer, a South Philly boy with a knack for sniffing out con men and thieves, two categories of criminal of which the city of Philadelphia had no shortage.
They were all on duty for a few more hours, so it was coffee and Cokes for now. They lifted a glass to their day.
Lucas Anthony Thompson, 26, late of Port Richmond, currently a guest of Hotel Homicide, stood accused in the aggravated murder and sexual assault of a young woman named Marcia Jane Kimmelman. According to witnesses, the two had met at an AA meeting in West Philly but, because last names were never used, no one knew who Thompson was. They had a general description, but that was about it.
Marcia's body had been found in a vacant lot on Baltimore Avenue near 47th Street. She had been sexually assaulted, shot once in the head with a. 38 at close range. Three months later Thompson met and attacked a young woman after a meeting in Kingessing, but the woman, a secretary for Comcast named Bonnie Silvera, survived. DNA found in semen left behind by her attacker matched that of Marcia Kimmelman's killer. Bonnie Silvera gave police a highly detailed description of Thompson, and there began an undercover operation that ultimately involved a dozen detectives and brought them to more than six districts.
'So how'd you ID him?' Dino asked.
Nicci deferred to Jessica. 'Talk to the mastermind.'
'Well, we had a little help from the Audio Visual Unit on this one,' Jessica said. 'But when Thompson and I were sitting in that coffee shop I took his picture with my cellphone. Then I sent the photo via SMS to Nicci's phone. Nicci and two uniforms were out in the van, about half a block away, with Bonnie Silvera. A few seconds later Nicci got the photo, opened it, showed it to Bonnie. The witness made the positive ID, Nicci sent me a text, letting me know we were on, and we knew we had him.'
'That was your play?' Dino asked.
Jessica blew on her nails, buffed them dramatically on her blouse.
'My God, you are a dangerous woman,' Dino said.
'Tell the world.'
'I should tell your husband.'
'Like he doesn't know,' Jessica said. 'Right now he's painting the fence behind our house. I'm going to let him draw me a bubble bath later.'
Detective Dennis Stansfield, perhaps feeling left out, piped in. 'You know, I read in a recent survey that, in her lifetime, the average American woman receives 26.5 miles of cock.'
If there was one thing Jessica hated, it was a cop who found a way to make a sex joke after hearing about a rape. Even worse, a rape/murder. Rape had nothing to do with sex. Rape was about violence and power.
Stansfield glanced over at Jessica. It seemed that she had gotten the assignment to be the flustered, blushing female officer in his presence, the one ill at ease in the wake of his shabby jokes. Was he kidding? Jessica had been born and raised in South Philly, and had grown up around cops. She was swearing like a longshoreman by the time she was five. She had even gotten to like the taste of soap.
'Twenty-six miles, huh?' Jessica asked.
'Twenty-six point ftve,' Stansfield replied.
Jessica looked at Nicci, at Dino, back at Stansfield. Dino looked at the table. He didn't know exactly what was coming, but he knew something.
'So, let me get this straight,' Jessica said, squaring off.
'Is that 26.5 miles counting each insertion, or all the cocks added up individually?'
Stansfield, all of a sudden, started to redden a bit himself. 'Well, I'm not sure. I don't think the survey said.'
Nothing killed a dirty joke like discussion and analysis. 'Not very scientific, then, is it?'
'Well, it was-'
'Now, if we're counting per insertion,' Jessica continued, unbowed, 'that might be just one hell of a weekend.' She leaned back in her chair, crossed her arms. 'If we're counting each dick just once
… let's see.' She looked at Nicci, while gesturing to Stansfield. 'How many times does four inches go into twenty-six miles?'
'Twenty-six-five,' Nicci added.
'Right,' Jessica said. 'Twenty-six-five.'
Stansfield was now as red as a Roma tomato. 'Four inches? Uh, I don't think so, darlin'.'
Jessica looked behind her, at the woman setting up the next table. 'Hey, Kathy, is there a ruler in the office?' Kathy was one of the owners of the Hot Potato Cafe.
'Oh yeah,' Kathy said with a wink. A Philly girl herself, she had heard the whole exchange and was probably dying to leap into the fray.
'All right, all right,' Stansfield said.
'Come on, Dennis,' Jessica said. 'Drop that big hot spud on the table.'
Suddenly Stansfield had somewhere else to be. He glanced at his watch, downed his coffee, mumbled his goodbyes, made his exit.
Jessica could ignore the Cro-Magnons of the world on a day like this. A killer was in custody, they had a pile of evidence against him, no civilian or police officer had been injured in the arrest, and a gun was off the street. It didn't get any better than that.
Twenty minutes later they split up. Jessica walked to her car alone. She knew that she had to keep up a front with her fellow detectives, a shield of hubris and bravado. But the cold truth was that she'd had a gun pointed at her. She knew that everything could have been taken away in the time it took to pull that trigger.
She stepped into a doorway and, making sure she was not observed, closed her eyes, a tidal wave of fear rushing over her. In her mind she saw her husband Vincent, her daughter Sophie, her father Peter. Both Peter Giovanni and Vincent Balzano were cops – her father long retired – and knew the risks, but Jessica envisioned them both standing over her casket at St. Paul's. In her mind she heard the bagpipes.
Jess, she thought. Don't go there. If you go there, you might never come back.
On the other hand, after all was said and done, she was tough, wasn't she? She was PPD. She was her father's daughter.
Fuck it all, she was dangerous.
By the time she reached her car her legs were steady. Before she could open the door she noticed someone across the street. It was David Albrecht. He had the camera on his shoulder. He was filming her.
Here we go, Jessica thought. It's going to be a long week.
She got in her car, started it. Her cellphone rang. She answered, and learned something she'd always suspected.
She wasn't the only dangerous female in her family.
I hear a truck pull into the driveway. A few moments later, a knock at the door. I open it. In front of me stands a man of forty, just beginning to paunch. He is wearing a red windbreaker, paint-splattered jeans, a pair of soiled running shoes with frayed laces. In his hand is a clipboard.
'Mr. Marcato?' the man asks.
Marcato. The name makes me smile.
'Yes.' I extend my hand. The man 's skin is rough, calloused, stained. He reeks of cigarettes and turpentine.
Tm Kenny Beckman,' he says. 'We spoke on the phone.'
'Of course. Please come in.'
Except for a few plastic trash barrels and dusty glass display cases, the space is empty.
''Man, what's that smell?' Beckman asks.
'It's coming from next door. There used to be a sausage shop there and I think they left some meat to rot. I intend to speak to them about it.'
'You better. You're not gonna do any business in here if it smells like this.'
'I understand.' I gesture at the room. As you can see, we're going to need quite a bit of work here.'
'You can say that again.'
Beckman walks around the room, touching the moldering drywall, fingering the dust-caked sills, shining a flashlight along the baseboards. He produces a measuring tape, takes a few dimensions, jots them on the clipboard. I watch him carefully, calculating his speed and agility.
A minute or so later: 'You've got a pretty good sag in the floor joists.' He bounces a few times, driving home his point. The parched joists creak beneath his weight. 'The first thing we're going to need to do is shore that up. You really can't do too much else with the floor out of level.'
'Whatever is necessary to bring this up to code.'
Beckman looks around the room again, perhaps in preparation for his closing. 'Well, you've got a ways to go, but I think we can handle it.'
'Good. I'd like to get started right away.'
'Sounds like a plan.'
'And by the way, you've come highly recommended.'
'Oh yeah? Who recommended me? If you don't mind me asking.'
'I'm not sure I recall. It was a while ago.'
'March 21, 2002.'
At the mention of the date Kenneth Beckman tenses. He takes a step backward, glances at the door. 'I'm sorry? 2002? Is that what you said?'
'March of 2002?'
Another glance at the door. 'That's not possible.'
'And why is that?'
'Well, for one thing, I wasn't even in business then.'
'I can explain,' I say. 'Let me show you something.' I gesture to the dark hallway leading to the back room of the first floor. Beckman takes a moment, perhaps sensing that something is slightly off kilter, like a radio that cannot quite find a signal. But he clearly needs the work, even if it is for a weird man who speaks in riddles.
We head down the hallway. When we reach the door I push it open. The smell is a lot stronger here.
'Fuck!' Beckman exclaims, recoiling. He reaches into his back pocket, takes out a soiled handkerchief, brings it to his mouth. 'What the hell is that?'
The small square room is spotless. There are two steel tables at the center, both bolted to the floor. The night-black walls have been expensively soundproofed; the drop ceiling is made of acoustic tile purchased by mail order from a Swiss company specializing in outfitting the finest recording studios in the world. Above the tables is a microphone. The floor is a high- gloss enamel, painted red in the name of practicality. Beneath the tables is a drain hole.
On one of the tables rests a figure, supine beneath a white plastic sheet pulled up to the neck.
When Beckman sees the corpse, and recognizes it for what it is, his knees trick.
I turn to the wall, unpin a photograph, a clipping from a newspaper. It is the only adornment in the room. 'She was pretty,' I say. 'Not beautiful, not in the Grace Kelly sense, but pretty beneath the coarseness of all this paint.'' I hold up the picture. 'Don't you think?'
In the pitiless fluorescent light Beckman's face contorts with fear.
'Tell me what happened,' I say. 'Don't you think it's time?'
Beckman retreats, waving a forefinger in the air. 'You're fucking nuts, man. Fucking psycho. I'm outta here.' He turns and tries the knob on the door. Locked. He pulls and pushes, pulls and pushes. It is a mounting frenzy, with no success. 'Open the goddamn door!'
Instead of unlocking the door, I step forward, remove the sheet from the figure on the table. The body underneath has begun to decompose, its eyes now descended into their sockets, its skin fallen sallow, the color of overripe corn. The form is still recognizable as human, albeit emaciated and on the precipice of putrefaction. The hands are gray and shriveled, fingers stiff in supplication. I do not gag at the sick-sweet smell. In fact, I have begun to anticipate it with some measure of desire.
I pry back the index finger on the corpse's left hand. There is a small tattoo of a swan. I look at Kenneth Beckman, and say, in my best broken Italian:
'Benvenuto al carnevale!'
Welcome to the carnival.
Beckman staggers against the wall, horrified by the sight, the fresh surge of decay in the air. He tries to speak, but the words bottleneck in his throat.
I lift the Taser and place it to the side of Beckman's chest. Blue lightning strikes. The man folds to the floor.
For a moment the room is silent.
As silent as a womb.
I take the three killing instruments out of their sheaths, lay them on the table, next to the salon-quality hair trimmer. I open the hidden cabinet concealed behind a door that has a touch latch, revealing the recording equipment. The sight of the matte-black finish on the six components, free of dust and static, fills me with an almost sexual sensation. The warmth coming off the components – I always warm everything up at least an hour before a session – coats me in a thin layer of perspiration. Or maybe that is just anticipation.
Beckman is shackled to the table with tape over his mouth. His head is held in place by a neurosurgical clamp, a precision device used to fix a patient's head to a table during stereotactic procedures for the placement of electrodes, an operation requiring rigid immobilization. A year ago I ordered the apparatus from a German firm, paying by international money order, receiving the product through a series of remailers.
I slip on a surgical gown, stand next to the table, open the straight razor. With the index finger of my left hand I probe the soft skin on the man's forehead. Beckman howls into his gag, but the sound is muffled.
That is about to change.
With a steady hand I make the first cut across the forehead, just beneath the hairline, taking my time. I watch the skin bisect slowly, revealing the glossy pink tissue beneath. The surgical clamp does its job well. The man cannot move his head at all. With a foot pedal I press Record, then remove the gag.
The man gulps air, pink foam leaking from the corners of his mouth, lie has severed the tip of his tongue.
He begins to scream.
I monitor the sound levels, make a few adjustments. Beckman continues to shriek, blood running down both sides of his face now, onto the polished stainless steel of the table, onto the dry enamel of the floor.
A few minutes later I blot the blood on Beckman's forehead, clean it with an alcohol pad. I go to work on the man's right ear. When I am finished I take out a measuring tape, measure down from the ait on the forehead, mark the spot with a red felt-tip pen, then take the second killing instrument in hand, hold it to the light. The carbon tip is a dark, lustrous blue.
One final check of the sound levels and I set about my penultimate task. Slowly, deliberately – largo, one might say – I proceed, knowing that just a few feet away, on the other side of the outside wall, the city of Philadelphia is passing by, oblivious to the symphony being composed inside this common looking building.
Then again, has not the greatest art in history come from humble surroundings?
Zig, zig, zag.
I am Death in cadence.
When the power drill reaches its full RPM, and the razor-sharp bit nears the skin covering the frontal bone, in an area just above the right eye, Kenneth Arnold Beckman's screams reach a majestic volume, a second octave. The voice is off key, but that can be fixed later. For now, there is no need to hurry. No need at all.
In fact, we have all day.
Sophie Balzano sat at one end of the long couch, looking even smaller than usual.
Jessica stepped into the outer office, talked to the secretary, then entered the main office, where she chatted with one of Sophie's Sunday- school teachers. Jessica soon returned, sat next to her daughter. Sophie did not take her stare off her own shoes.
'Want to tell me what happened?' Jessica asked.
Sophie shrugged, looked out the window. Her hair was long, pulled back into a cat's-eye barrette. At seven, she was a little smaller than her friends, but she was fast and smart. Jessica was five-eight in her stocking feet, and had grown to that height somewhere during the summer between sixth and seventh grade. She wondered if the same would happen for her daughter.
'Honey? You have to tell Mommy what happened. We'll make it better, but I have to know what happened. Your teacher said you were in a fight. Is that true?'
'Are you okay?'
Sophie nodded again, although this time a little more slowly. 'I'm all right.'
'We'll talk in the car?'
As they walked out of the school, Jessica saw some of the other kids whispering to each other. Even in this day and age, it seemed, a playground fight still generated gossip.
They left the school grounds, headed down Academy Road. When they made the turn onto Grant Avenue and the traffic halted for some construction works, Jessica asked, 'Can you tell me what the fight was about?'
'It was about Brendan.'
Brendan Hurley was a boy in Sophie's class. Thin and quiet and bespectacled, Brendan was bully-bait if Jessica had ever seen it. Beyond that, Jessica didn't know a lot about him. Except that on the previous Valentine's Day Brendan had given Sophie a card. A big glittery card.
'What about Brendan?' Jessica asked.
'I don't know,' she said. 'I think he might be…'
Traffic began to move. They pulled off the boulevard, onto Torresdale Avenue.
'What, sweetie? You think Brendan might be what?'
Sophie looked out the window, then at her mother. 'I think he might be G-A-E.'
Oh boy, Jessica thought. She had been prepared for a lot of things. The talk about sharing, the talk about race and class, the talk about money, even the talk about religion. Jessica was woefully unprepared for the talk about gender identity. The fact that Sophie spelled the word out instead of saying it – indicating that, to Sophie, and her classmates, the word belonged in that special classification of profanities not to be uttered – spoke volumes. 'I see,' was all that Jessica could come up with at that moment. She decided not to correct her daughter's spelling at this time. 'What makes you say that?'
Sophie straightened her skirt. This was clearly difficult for her. 'He kind of runs like a girl,' she said. 'And throws like a girl.'
'But so do I, right?'
'Yes, you do.'
'So it's not a bad thing.'
'No, it's not a bad thing at all.'
They pulled into their driveway, cut the engine. Jessica soon realized that she had no idea how much Sophie knew about sexual orientation. Even thinking about the words 'sexual orientation' in connection with her little girl freaked her completely out.
'So, what happened?' Jessica asked.
'Well, this girl was saying mean things about Brendan.'
'Who is this girl?'
'Monica,' Sophie said. 'Monica Quagliata.'
'Is she in your grade?'
'No,' Sophie said. 'She's in third. She's pretty big.' Consciously or subconsciously, Sophie balled her fists.
'What did you say to her?'
'I told her to stop saying those things. Then she pushed me and called me a skank.'
That bitch, Jessica thought. She secretly hoped that Sophie had cleaned the little shit's clock. 'What did you do then?'
'I pushed her back. She fell down. Everyone laughed.'
'Did Brendan laugh?'
'No,' Sophie said. 'Brendan is afraid of Monica Quagliata. Everyone's afraid of Monica Quagliata.'
'But not you.'
Sophie glanced out the window. It had begun to rain. She traced her finger on the misting glass, then looked back at her mother. 'No,' she said. 'Not me.'
Yes, Jessica thought. My tough little girl. 'I want you to listen, okay, honey?'
Sophie sat up straight. 'Is this going to be one of our talks?'
Jessica almost laughed. She checked herself at the last second. 'Yes. I guess it is.'
'I want you to remember that fighting is always the last resort, okay? If you have to defend yourself, it's all right. Every single time. But sometimes we need to take care of people who can't take care of themselves. Do you understand what I mean?'
Sophie nodded, but looked confused. 'What about you, Mom? You used to fight all the time.'
Ah, crap, Jessica thought. Logic from a seven-year-old.
After Sophie was born, Jessica had discovered boxing as an exercise and weight-loss regimen. For some reason she took to it, even going so far as to take a few amateur bouts before letting her great uncle Vittorio talk her into turning pro. Although those days were probably behind her – unless there was a Senior Tour for female boxers closing in on thirty-five – she had begun to visit Joe Hand's Gym in anticipation of a series of exhibition bouts planned to raise money for the Police Athletic League.
None of that training helped her at this moment, however, a moment when she was faced with explaining the difference between fighting and boxing.
Then Jessica saw a shadow in her side mirror.
Vincent was walking up the drive, carrying a pizza from Santucci's. With his caramel eyes, long lashes and muscular physique, he still made Jessica's heart flutter, at least on those days when she didn't want to kill him. Sometimes he dressed in suits and ties, cleanshaven, his dark hair swept back. Other days he was scruffy. Today was a scruffy day. Jessica was, and always had been, a pushover for scruff. She had to admit it. Detective Vincent Balzano looked pretty damned good for a married man.
'Sweetie?' Jessica asked.
'That thing we were talking about? About fighting versus boxing?'
'What about it?'
Jessica reached over, patted her daughter's hand. 'Ask your father.'
They had lived in the Lexington Park section of Northeast Philadelphia for more than five years, just a few blocks from Roosevelt Boulevard. On a good day it would take Jessica forty-five minutes to get to the Roundhouse. On a bad day – most days – even longer. But all that was about to change.
She and Vincent had just closed on a vacant trinity in South Philly, a three-story row house belonging to old friends, which was how many houses in the neighborhood changed hands. Rare was the property that made it to the classifieds.
They would be living in the shadow of their new church, Sacred Heart of Jesus, where Sophie would be starting school. New friends, new teachers. Jessica wondered what the effect on her little girl was going to be.
Jessica's father, Peter Giovanni, one of the most decorated cops in PPD history, still lived in the South Philadelphia house in which Jessica had grown up – at Sixth and Catharine. He was still vibrant and active, very much involved in the community, but he was getting on in years, and the trip for him to see his only granddaughter would eventually become a burden. For this, and for so many other reasons, they were moving back to South Philly.
With her daughter fast asleep, and her husband ensconced in the basement with his brothers, Jessica stood at the top of the narrow stairs to the attic.
It seemed as if her entire life was in these boxes, these cramped and angled rooms. Photographs, keepsakes, awards, birth and death certificates, diplomas.
She picked up one of the boxes, a white Strawbridge's gift box with a piece of green yarn around it. It was the yarn with which her mother used to tie her hair in autumn, after the summer sun had made her brunette hair turn auburn.
Jessica slid off the yarn, opened the box: a faux-pearl mirror compact, a small leather change purse, a stack of Polaroids. Jessica felt the familiar pangs of pain and grief and loss, even though it had been more than twenty-five years since her mother had died. She slipped the yarn back around the box, put it by the stairs, gave the room one last survey.
She had been a cop for a long time, had seen just about everything. There wasn't too much that unnerved her.
They were moving back to the city.
'Fuckin' city,' the man said. 'First my car gets booted, then I they tow it, then I hadda go down to PPA and spend two hours standing around with a bunch of smelly lowlifes. Then I hadda go down to Ninth and Filbert. Then they tell me I owe three-hunna-ninety dollars in tickets. Three-hunna-ninety dollars.''
The man slammed back his drink, washed it down with a mouthful of beer.
'Fuckin' city. Fuckin' PPA. Buncha Nazis is what they are. Fuckin' racket.'
Detective Kevin Byrne glanced at his watch. It was 11:45 p.m. His city was coming alive. The guy next to him had come alive after his third Jim Beam. The man migrated from tales of woe that began with his wife (fat and loud and lazy) to his two sons (ditto on the lazy, no data on body type) to his car (a Prism not really worth getting out of hock) and his ongoing war with the Philadelphia Parking Authority. The PPA had few fans in the city. Without them, though, the city would be chaos.
They were sitting at the bar in a corner tavern in Kensington, a hole in the wall called The Well. The place was half-full. Kool and the Gang were on the juke; an ESPN wrap-up of the day's sports was on the television over the bar.
Byrne slipped in the earbuds, blotting out the Parking Wars victim, looked at the screen on his iPod, dialed down to his classic blues playlist. The jukebox in the bar was now playing something by the Commodores, but here, inside Byrne's head, it was 1957, and Muddy Waters was going down to Louisiana, saying something about a mojo hand.
Byrne nodded to the bartender, the bartender nodded back. Byrne had never been to this tavern before, but the barkeep was a pro at what he did, as was Byrne.
Byrne had grown up in Philadelphia, was a Two-Streeter for life, had seen the city's best days and its worst. Well, maybe not its best. It was, after all, the place where the Declaration of Independence had been signed, the place where the Founding Fathers had gathered and hammered out the rules by which Americans, at least to some small degree, still lived.
On the other hand, the Phillies had won the World Series in 2008, and for a Phillies fan that trumped some faded old document any day.
In his time on the job Byrne had investigated thousands of crimes, worked hundreds of homicides, had spent nearly half his life among the dead, the broken, the forgotten.
What was the Thomas de Quincy quote?
If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath- breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination.
Byrne had his own word for it.
To Kevin Byrne, slippage was about accepting levels of behavior that previous generations would have considered unthinkable, standards that had slowly become the norm, new lows from which the cycle could begin again, inching ever downward.
Lately he found himself thinking obsessively about all the innocent, the unavenged. He thought about the short, inconsequential life of Kitty Jo Morris, aged three, scalded to death by her mother's boyfriend, a man angered over the little girl's habit of taking the remote from the living room; of Bonita Alvarez, not quite eleven, who was pushed from the roof of a three-story building in North Philly for hiding one of her older sister's Rice Krispie treats in the broom closet; of Max Pearlman, aged eighteen months, left in a car overnight in January while his father smoked crack underneath the Piatt Bridge.
No headlines here. No NBC White Paper specials on the state of the American family. Just a little less space in the graveyards. Just a little slip.
Now, in Byrne's head, it was 1970. Blues legend Willie Dixon was proclaiming that he ain't superstitious. Neither was Kevin Byrne. He had seen too much to believe in anything but good and evil.
And evil is in the house, Byrne thought as he considered the man sitting across the bar from him at that moment, a man who had the blood of at least two people on his hands, a murderer named Eduardo Robles.
On a hot summer afternoon in 2007, Eduardo Robles and his girlfriend were walking down a street in Fishtown. According to Robles, at around 1:30 p.m. a car cruised slowly by, the deep bass of a rap song rattling the windows of nearby buildings. Someone in that car pointed a gun out the window and fired. Robles's girlfriend, a seventeen-year- old named Lina Laskaris, was struck three times.
Robles called 911, and when he arrived at the police station, after having his statement taken by a patrol officer on the street, a divisional detective assumed that the young man was a suspect, not a witness. The detective cuffed Robles and stuck him in a holding cell.
Byrne got the call at eleven p.m. When Robles arrived at the Roundhouse – nearly ten hours after the incident – Byrne removed the cuffs, sat Robles down in one of the interrogation rooms. Robles said he was hungry and thirsty. Byrne sent out for hoagies and Mountain Dew, then began to question Robles.
At three o'clock the next morning Robles rolled, and admitted it had been he who'd shot Lina Laskaris. Byrne arrested Robles for murder at 3:06 a.m., read him his Miranda warnings.
The problem with the case was that, according to the law, the police had six hours to determine someone's status as a witness or a suspect.
Three days later the grand jury came back with a no-bill because they believed, rightly so, that the arrest had begun the moment Robles was mistakenly put in cuffs at the station house. In that moment Robles went from witness to suspect, and the clock began to tick.
Five days after killing his girlfriend in cold blood, Eduardo Robles was a free man, courtesy of the astonishingly incompetent work of a divisional detective who, incredibly, due to some unfathomable political connection, had recently been rewarded for his incompetence with a job in the Homicide Unit, at an increase in pay.
That man's name was Detective Dennis Stansfield.
Robles went back to the life and within months was involved in the murder of a man named Samuel Reese, a night clerk at a bodega in Chinatown. Police believed that Robles shot Reese twice, took the surveillance disk from the recorder in the back room, and walked out with sixty-six dollars and a can of brake fluid.
It was all circumstantial – no ballistics, no physical evidence, shaky witness accounts – nothing that would stand up in court. In terms of the reality of the law, bullshit.
Byrne had spent the past two days building a case against Robles, but it was not going well. Although they had not found the murder weapon, Byrne interviewed four people who could put Robles in that bodega at that time. None of them were willing to talk to police, at least not on the record. Byrne had seen the fear in their eyes. But he also knew that talking to a cop on the street corner, or in your living room, or even at your place of business was one thing. Talking to a district attorney in front of a grand jury, under oath, was something else. Everyone called to testify would understand that committing perjury in front of a grand jury carried a prison term of five months, twenty-nine days. And that was for each lie.
In the morning Byrne would meet with Michael Drummond, the assistant district attorney assigned to the Robles case. If they could get four people to implicate Robles, they might be able to get a search warrant for Robles's car and apartment, perhaps finding something that would create a daisy chain, and the evidence would roll in.
Or maybe it wouldn't get that far. Maybe something would happen to Robles.
You never knew about such things in a city like Philadelphia.
Were the police partially responsible for the death of Samuel Reese? In this case they were. Robles should never have gotten back on the street.
On the day Robles was arrested, Byrne visited Lina Laskaris's grandmother. Anna Laskaris was a Greek immigrant in her early seventies. She had raised Lina alone. Byrne told the woman that the man responsible for Lina's death was being brought to justice. He remembered the woman's tears, how she held him, how her hair smelled of cinnamon. She was making pantespani.
What Byrne remembered most was that Anna Laskaris had trusted him, and he had let her down.
Byrne now caught a glimpse of himself in the filmy mirror behind the bar. He wore a ball cap, and the glasses he had been forced to start wearing lately. If Robles had not been drinking he might have recognized Byrne. But Byrne was probably just a blur in the near distance to Robles, as well as to everyone else in the bar. This was no upscale Center City watering hole. This place was for hard drinkers, for hard men.
At 12:30 Robles stumbled out of the bar. He got into his car and drove down Frankford Avenue. When Robles reached York Street he turned east, drove a few blocks, parked.
Byrne sat in his car across the street, and watched. Robles got out of his car, stopped twice to talk to people. He was looking to score. Within minutes a man approached.
Robles and the other man walked, a little unsteadily, down the alley. A moment later Byrne saw light flare against the dirty brick wall of the alley. Robles was hitting the rock.
Byrne got out of his car, looked both ways up the street. Deserted. They were alone. Philadelphia was once again sliding into slumber, except for those who moved silently through the harbor of night.
Byrne stepped into shadow. From somewhere, perhaps deep inside him, a long-forgotten melody began to play.
It sounded like a requiem.
Monday, October 25
The early morning run through Pennypack Park had become a sacrament, one that Jessica was not quite ready to relinquish. The people she saw every morning were not just part of the landscape but part of her life.
There was the older woman, always meticulously turned out in 1960s pillbox chic, who walked her four Jack Russell terriers every morning, the dogs in possession of a wardrobe more extensive and seasonal than Jessica's. There was the tai chi group who, rain or shine, performed their morning rituals on the baseball diamond near Holme Avenue. Then there were her buddies, the two Russians, half-brothers, both named Ivan. They were well into their sixties, but incredibly fit, as well as shockingly hirsute, given to jogging in their matching lime- green Speedos in summer. For half-brothers they looked almost identically alike. At times Jessica could not tell them apart, but it didn't really matter. When she saw one of them she simply said, 'Good morning, Ivan.' She always got a smile.
When she and Vincent and Sophie moved to South Philly there would still be a few places for her to jog, but it would be a long time before Jessica could run again without caution, like she could here.
Here, where her route and path were well worn, she could sort things out. It was this she would miss most of all.
She rounded the bend, ran up the incline, thought about Marcia Kimmelman, and what had been done to her. She thought about Lucas Anthony Thompson, and the startled look in his eyes when he'd realized it was over, the moment the cuffs clicked shut on his wrists and he was yanked to his feet, dirt and gravel on his face, his clothing. Jessica had to admit she liked the dirt-and-gravel part, always had. Mud, weather permitting, was even better.
With this comforting image in mind she turned the corner, onto her street, and saw someone standing at the end of her driveway. A man in a dark suit. It was Dennis Stansfield.
Jessica let her feelings morph from apprehension to annoyance. What the hell was this jackass doing at her house?
She slowed to a walk for the last one hundred feet, catching her breath. She approached the man, who seemed to realize he was out of place.
'Detective,' Jessica said, suddenly conscious of her appearance. She wore loose sweatpants and a tight tank top, a sports bra beneath. She had worked up a sweat and taken off her fleece hoodie, tied it around her waist. She saw Stansfield's stare do a quick inventory of her body, then find her eyes. Jessica took a moment, caught the rest of her breath, drilling the look right back. Stansfield flinched first, looking away.
'Good morning,' he said.
Jessica had the option of putting her hoodie back on, zipping it up, but that would be telling Stansfield that she had a problem. She had no problems. Not one. She put her hands on her hips. 'What's up?'
Stansfield turned back to her, clearly doing his best to look at her face. 'The boss said Detective Burns might not be back today, and that if it was okay with you-'
'Byrne,' Jessica said. 'His name is Kevin Byrne.' Jessica wondered if Stansfield was intentionally busting her chops or was really that clueless. Right now it was a toss-up. It wasn't that Kevin was Superman, but he did have a reputation within the unit, if not the entire department. Jessica and Byrne had worked some high-profile cases over the past few years, and unless you were a rookie you had to know who he was. Plus, Byrne was off cleaning up Stansfield's mess, and this could not possibly have been lost on the man.
'Byrne,' Stansfield said, correcting himself. 'Sorry. The boss said that he might not be done with the grand jury today, and that we should partner up for the duration. At least until Detective Byrne gets back.' He shuffled his feet. 'If that's all right with you.'
Jessica didn't remember anyone asking what her thoughts were on the subject. 'You have the notification sheet?'
Stansfield reached into his suit-coat pocket, retrieved the form, held it up.
As he did this, Jessica glanced at the house. She saw a shadow near the window in the front bedroom, saw the curtains part a few inches. It was Vincent. Jessica might have been a police officer, and even when she jogged these days she was armed – at that moment she had the sweetest little Browning. 2 5 at the small of her back – but when Vincent saw her talking to someone in front of the house, someone he didn't know, his antennae went up. The number of police officers killed had risen sharply over the past few years, and neither Jessica nor Vincent ever let down their guards.
Jessica nodded, almost imperceptibly, and, a few seconds later, the curtain closed. She turned back to Stansfield.
'All in a day, detective,' Jessica said. 'Let's partner up.'
The twisted, phony smile on Stansfield's face all but shouted his disappointment at her tepid response. 'That's good news,' he said. 'Because we have a job.'
We, Jessica thought. What a true delight this was going to be. She knew she was up on the wheel. The wheel was the roster of detectives on the Line Squad. When you caught a new case you went to the end of the line, worked the case, slowly making your way back to the top. When you reached the number one position, regardless how many cases you had on your plate, you were up again. Rare was the day in the unit where you cleared your cases when a new body fell.
'All right,' she said. 'Let me a grab a shower. I'll be out in ten minutes.'
Two things immediately registered on Stansfield's face. One, the idea of her taking a shower. Two, the fact that he hadn't been invited in.
The crime scene was at the northern end of the Pennsport section of South Philadelphia. Pennsport was a working-class neighborhood, bounded by Passyunk Square to the west, the Delaware River to the east, Queen Village to the north, Whitman to the south.
One of the oldest sections of the city, Pennsport had been slow in the development of new projects, with some of the homes dating back to 1815. It was quite possible to have a new block of row houses bookended by structures that had been built when James Madison was president of the United States.
When Jessica and Stansfield pulled up to the crime scene – a boarded-up storefront near the corner of Fifth and Federal Streets – a sector car was parked diagonally across the street. Both Federal and Fifth were one-way streets and at either end of the block stood a pair of uniformed officers, diverting traffic. The Crime Scene Unit had not yet arrived, so there was no tape ringing the perimeter yet. Budget cuts had forced the city to curtail new hires, to postpone updating equipment, and these days there could be a two-hour or longer lag in the arrival of key crime scene personnel.
But while CSU was not yet there, David Albrecht was, camera in hand.
'Morning!' he shouted from across the street.
Great, Jessica thought. Another morning person. Her husband and Sophie were morning people. Everyone around her was a morning person. Except Byrne. It was one of the reasons they worked so well together. On most days they grunted at each other until noon.
Jessica waved at David Albrecht, who promptly put up his camera and filmed the gesture. Then Jessica glanced at Dennis Stansfield. Stansfield, seeing he was on camera, buttoned his coat, sucked in his gut, and tried to look official.
They signed onto the log. The uniformed officer pointed down the alley.
'Inside or outside?' Jessica asked.
'Inside,' he said. 'But just.'
The scene was the rear entrance to a closed-up independent shoe store called All Soles. In the back were steps leading down to the basement, a door through which the various retail establishments that had been located there over the years received their shipments. The small area behind the store was littered with fast-food trash, discarded tires, the sort of urban detritus that people found too time-consuming to put in the Dumpster that was located just a few feet away.
Jessica and Stansfield stopped at the top of the steps. There was an iron handrail leading down. Just as Jessica made a mental note to ask CSU to dust the railing, Stansfield put his hand on it, striking a macho pose, lording his gold badge over the gathering personnel.
'Um, detective?' Jessica said.
Stansfield looked over. Jessica pointed at his hand. Stansfield realized that he was possibly contaminating the site, and withdrew his hand as if he were grabbing a red-hot poker.
Jessica turned her attention to the entrance to the crime scene.
There were four steps. She scanned the immediate area, saw no blood trail. The door was open just a few inches. She walked down the stairs, edged open the door, Stansfield a little too close behind her. His cologne was nauseating. It would soon become welcome.
'Holy shit,' said Stansfield.
The victim was a white male of undeterminable age – undeterminable partly because they could not see all of his face. He was lying in the middle of the small dusty storage room, amid cardboard boxes, plastic buckets, wooden forklift pallets. Jessica immediately saw the deep purple bruises on his wrists and ankles. The victim, it appeared, had been shackled. There was no blood, no sign of struggle in this room.
But two things gave her pause. First, the victim's forehead and eyes were wrapped in a band of white paper. The paper was about five inches wide and completely encircled the man's head. Across the top of the band was a streak of brown, a straight line drawn in what could have been dried blood. Beneath it was another spot, this one a nearly perfect oval about an inch wide. The paper overlapped at the left side of the man's head. It appeared to be sealed with red sealing wax. The right side had another smear of blood, which looked to be in the shape of a figure eight.
But that wasn't the worst of it.
The victim's body was completely nude. It appeared to have been shaved clean, head to toe. Pubic hair, chest hair, arm hair, leg hair – gone. The body's scraped and abraded skin indicated that it had been shaved roughly, violently, perhaps in the past day or so. There appeared to be no new growth.
The sight was so grotesque that it took Jessica a moment to take it all in. She had seen quite a bit. Never anything like this. The indignities of homicide were legion, but there was something about the final degradation of being left naked that made it all worse, a communique from the killer to the rest of the world that the humiliation of violent death was not the last word. For the most part, you didn't just die in this life. You were found dead.
Jessica took the lead, more out of instinct than from any sense of duty. Hers was a boys' world and the sooner you peed in the corners, the better. She had long since turned the word bitch from an epithet to a badge, an emblem as golden as her shield.
Stansfield cleared his throat. 'I'll, uh, get started on a canvass,' he said, and quickly took his leave.
There were some homicide detectives who liked the idea of being a homicide detective – the prestige, the pay, the cachet of being one of the chosen – but couldn't stand being at a crime scene. Apparently, Stansfield was just such a detective. Just as well, Jessica thought.
She crouched next to the victim, placed two fingers on his neck, checking for a pulse. She found none. She examined the front of the body, looking for some sort of entrance or exit wound. No holes, no blood.
She heard voices outside. She looked up to see Tom Weyrich coming down the steps, his gear in his hand, his photographer in tow. Weyrich was an investigator for the medical examiner's office with almost twenty years on the job.
'Top of the morning, Tom.'
Weyrich was in his early fifties, with a dry wit and a reputation as a thorough and exacting investigator. When Jessica had met him five years earlier he had been a meticulous and classically attired man. Now his mustache was irregularly trimmed, his eyes red and tired. Jessica knew that Weyrich's wife had recently died after a long fight with cancer. Tom Weyrich had taken it hard. Today he appeared to be running on fumes. His slacks were pressed, but Jessica noted that his shirt had probably been slept in.
'Had that double up in Torresdale,' Weyrich said, running his hands over his face, trying to wring out the exhaustion. 'Got out of there about two hours ago.'
'No rest for the righteous.'
'I wouldn't know.'
Weyrich stepped fully inside, saw the body. 'Good God.' Somewhere beneath the trash and shredded cardboard an animal scurried. 'Give me a good old execution-style two taps to the back of the head any day,' he added. 'I never thought I'd miss the crack wars.'
'Yeah,' Jessica said. 'Good times.'
Weyrich tucked his tie into his shirt, buttoned his suit coat, snapped on a pair of gloves. He went about his business. Jessica watched him, wondering how many times he had done this, how many times he had placed his hands on the cold flesh of the dead. She wondered what it was like for him, sleeping alone these days, and how he, more than anyone, needed to sense the warm flesh of the living. When Jessica and Vincent had been temporarily separated a few years earlier, it had been the thing she'd missed the most, the daily intimate contact with the warmth of another human being.
Jessica stepped outside, waited. She saw David Albrecht across the street, getting exterior shots of the building. Behind him, Jessica saw his sparkling new van, which had his website address painted on the side. It also had what Jessica figured was the title of his movie.
Coming soon: AREA 5292
Clever, Jessica thought. It was obviously a play on Area 51, the area in southern Nevada central to UFO conspiracy theories. The number 5292 was PPD parlance for a dead body.
Fifteen minutes later Tom Weyrich emerged.
'Bringing all my training to bear,' he began, 'I would conclude that this is a deceased person.'
'I knew I should have gone to a better school,' Jessica said. 'COD?'
'Can't even give you a presumptive cause of death until we unwrap his head.'
'Ready?' Jessica asked.
They stepped back inside the storage room. Jessica snapped on latex gloves. Of late they were bright purple. They knelt down on either side of the body.
The band of paper was fastened with a small wad of sealing wax. The wax was a glossy crimson. Jessica knew this would be a delicate operation, if she wanted to preserve the sample.
She took out her knife – a four-inch serrated Gerber that she always carried in a sheath around her ankle, at least when she was wearing jeans – and slipped it under the circle of hard wax. She pried it gently. At first it looked as if it might split in two, but then she got lucky. The specimen fell off in one piece. She placed it into an evidence bag. With Weyrich holding the opposite side of the paper band, they unveiled the victim's face.
It was a horror mask.
Jessica estimated the victim to be about thirty-five to forty, although most of the lividity was gone and the skin had begun to sag.
Across the upper portion of the victim's forehead was a single laceration, running laterally, perhaps four or five inches in length. The cut did not appear to be very deep, splitting just the skin in a deep violet streak, not deep enough to reach bone. It appeared to have been made with either a razor blade or a very sharp knife.
Just above the right eye was a small puncture wound, the diameter of an ice pick or a knitting needle. This too seemed shallow. Neither wound appeared to be fatal. The victim's right ear looked to be mutilated, with cuts along the top and side, all the way down to the lobe, which was missing.
Around the neck was a deep welt. Death appeared to be a result of strangulation.
'You think that's the COD?' Jessica asked, even though she knew that the cause of death could not be conclusively determined until an autopsy had been performed.
'Hard to tell,' Weyrich said. 'But there is petechiae in the sclera of his eyes. It's a pretty good bet.'
'Let's see, he was stabbed, slashed and strangled,' Jessica said. 'Real hat trick.'
'And that's just the stuff we know about. He might have been poisoned.'
Jessica poked around the small room, carefully overturning boxes and shipping pallets. She found no clothing, no ID, nothing to indicate who this victim might be.
When she stepped outside a few minutes later she saw Detective Joshua Bontrager walking across Federal Street, clipping his badge to his jacket pocket.
Josh Bontrager had only been in the unit a few years but he had developed into a good investigator. Josh was unique in a number of ways, not the least of which was the fact that he had grown up Amish in rural Pennsylvania before making his way to Philadelphia and the police force, where he spent a few years in various units before being called into the homicide unit for a special investigation. Josh was in his mid-thirties, country-boy blond, deceptively fit and agile. He did not bring a lot of street smarts to the job – most of the streets on which he'd grown up had been barely paved – or any sort of scientific logic, but rather an innate kindness, an affability that completely disarmed all but the most hardened criminal.
There were some in the unit who felt that Josh Bontrager was a country bumpkin who had no business in one of the most respected elite urban homicide divisions in the country. But Jessica knew that you underestimated him at your own peril, especially if you had something to hide.
Bontrager crossed the alley to Jessica's side, lowered his voice. 'So, how do you like working with Stansfield?'
'Well, aside from the racism, sexism, homophobia and completely exaggerated sense of self-worth, it's a blast.'
Bontrager laughed. 'That bad?'
'Nah. Those are the highlights.'
'How come no one seems to like him?'
Jessica explained the Eduardo Robles case, including Stansfield's monumental fuck-up – a fuck-up that to all intents and purposes had led to the death of Samuel Reese.
'You'd think he would have known better,' Bontrager said.
'And we definitely like this Robles guy for that second body?'
'Yeah,' Jessica said. 'Kevin's at the grand jury today.'
Bontrager nodded. 'So, for messing up royally Stansfield gets a promotion and a kick in pay?'
'The brass works in mysterious ways.'
Bontrager put his hands in his pockets, rocked on his heels. 'Well, until Kevin is back, if you want another partner next time you're up on the wheel, let me know.'
'Thanks, Josh. I will.' She held up a folder. 'Write me up?'
He took the folder from her, extracted a body chart, clipped it to a clipboard. The body chart was a standard police-department form that had four outlines of the human body drawn on it, front and back, left and right side, as well as space for the rudimentary details of the crime scene. It was the first and most referred-to form in the binder that would be dedicated to the case.
The two detectives stepped inside. Jessica spoke while Josh Bontrager wrote.
'We have a Caucasian male, aged thirty to forty-five years. There is a single laceration across the forehead, what appears to be a puncture wound above the right eye. The victim's right ear is mutilated. A portion of the ear lobe is missing. There is a ligature mark across the base of the neck.'
Bontrager went over the form, marking these areas on the figure.
'The victim is nude. The body looks to have been recently shaved from head to toe. He is barefoot. There are bruises on the wrists and ankles, which indicate the victim may have been restrained.'
Jessica continued to describe the scene, her path now forever crossed with that of this dead man, a dead man with no name.
Twenty minutes later, with Josh Bontrager back at the Roundhouse, and Dennis Stansfield still on canvass, Jessica paused at the top of the stairs. She turned 360 degrees, scanning the landscape. Directly behind the store was a double vacant lot, a parcel where a pair of buildings had recently been razed. There were still piles of concrete, bricks, lumber. There was no fence. To the right was a block of row houses. To the left was the rear of some sort of commercial building, with no windows overlooking the alley. If someone were to have seen anyone entering the rear of the crime scene, they would have had to have been in a back room of one of the row houses, or in the vacant lot. The view from across the street was partially obscured by the large piles of debris.
Jessica approached the responding officer, who stood at the mouth of the alley with the crime-scene log. One of his duties was to sign everyone in and out.
'Who found the body?' Jessica asked him.
'It was an anonymous tip,' the officer said. 'Came into 911 around six o'clock this morning.'
Anonymous, Jessica thought. A million and a half people in her city, and they were all anonymous. Until it was one of their own.
He awoke, dreambound, still in the hypnotic thrall of troubled sleep. This morning, in his final reverie, as the light of day filtered through the blinds, Kevin Byrne stood in the defendant's well of a cavernous courtroom that was lit by a sea of votive candles. He could not see the members of the jury but he knew who they were. They were the silent victims. And there were more than twelve. There were thousands, each holding one light.
Byrne got out of bed, staggered to the kitchen, splashed cold water on his face. He'd gotten four hours of sleep; three the night before. Over the past few months his insomnia had become acute, a routine part of his life so ingrained that he could not imagine living any other way. Nevertheless, he had an appointment – doctor's orders and against his will – with a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania Sleep Clinic.
He took a long hot shower, rinsing off the previous night. He toweled, dressed, pulling a fresh shirt out of the dry-cleaning bag. He put on a new suit, his favorite tie, then sat at his small dinette table, sipped his coffee. He glanced at the Sleep Clinic questionnaire. All one hundred sixty probing questions.
Question 87: Do you snore?
If I could get someone to sleep with me, I might be able to answer that, he thought.
Then Byrne remembered his little experiment. The night before, at around two a.m., when he'd found that he couldn't drift off, he'd dug out his small Sony digital recorder.
He got back in bed, took two Ambien, turned on the recorder, flipped off the light, and closed his eyes. Four hours later he awoke.
And now he had the results of his experiment. He poured more coffee, played the recording from the beginning. At first he heard some rustling, the settling of the unit on the nightstand. Then he heard himself turn off the lamp, a little more rustling, then a bump of the table, which was so loud that it made him jump. He turned down the volume. Then, for the next five minutes or so, he heard nothing but white noise, the occasional car passing by his apartment.
Byrne listened to this rhythmic breathing awhile, which seemed to get slower and slower. Then he heard the first snort. It sounded like a backfire. Or maybe a pissed-off Rottweiler.
Great, he thought. So he did snore. Not constantly, but about fifteen minutes into the recording he began to snore again, loudly for a few minutes, then not at all, then loudly again. He stared at the recorder, thinking:
What the fuck am I doing?
The answer? Sitting in his small dining room, barely awake, listening to a recording of himself sleeping. Did it get dumber than this?
Man, he had to get a life.
He pressed the fast-forward button, and every time he came across a sound he stopped, rewound for a few seconds, played it back.
Byrne was just about to give up on the experiment when he heard something that sounded different. He hit Stop, then Play.
'You know? came his voice from the recorder.
He let it run. Soon there was another noise, the sound of the lamp clicking on, and his voice saying, clear as a bell:
Then there was the snap of the lamp being turned off, more rustling, then silence for the rest of the recording. Although he had no memory of it, he must have awakened, turned on the light, looked at the clock, spoken the time aloud, and gone back to sleep.
Except there was no clock in his bedroom. And his watch and cellphone were always on the dresser.
So how did he know what time it was?
Byrne played it all back, one last time, just to be certain that he was not imagining all of it. He was not.
As Byrne waited in the park, he thought about another moment in this place, a time when his heart had been intact. His daughter Colleen had been four years old, and was trying desperately to get a kite in the air. She ran in circles, back and forth, her blonde hair trailing, arms raised high, repeatedly getting tangled in the string. She stamped her feet, shook a fist at the sky, untangled herself, tried again and again. But she never asked him for help. Not once.
It seemed as if it were just a few weeks ago. But it was not. It was a long time ago. Somehow, Colleen, who had been deaf since birth, the result of a condition called Mondini Dysplasia, was going to Gallaudet University, the country's first and most preeminent college for deaf and hard-of-hearing undergraduate students.
Today she was off on an overnighter to the Gallaudet campus in Washington D.C. with her friend Lauren, ostensibly to scope out the campus and the possibilities for living quarters, but quite possibly to scope out the nightlife and the young men. Byrne knew the tuition fees were steep, but he had been saving and investing for a long time, and Colleen had a partial scholarship.
Byrne had wanted Colleen to stay nearer to Philadelphia, but it had been ages since he had been able to talk her out of anything once she set her mind to it.
He had never met Lauren, but Colleen had good taste in friends. He hoped Lauren was sensible too, and that he wouldn't be getting a phone call from the D.C. police telling him that the two of them had been picked up at some out-of-control frat kegger.
Byrne sensed someone approaching on his right. He looked around to see his daughter walking across the square, dressed in a navy blue suit. She didn't look like a college student, she looked like a businesswoman. Had he missed something? Had he been asleep for four years?
She looked heart-stoppingly beautiful, but something was wrong. She was holding hands with a guy who had to be at least thirty. And they weren't just holding hands, they were doing that wrap-aroundat-the-wrist thing, and brushing up against each other as they walked.
When they got closer Byrne saw that the kid was younger than he had first thought, perhaps around twenty-two, which was still far too old and worldly for his taste.
Unfortunately, in matters such as these Kevin Byrne's taste didn't matter in the least.
Colleen let go of the guy and kissed Byrne on the cheek. She was wearing perfume. This was getting worse by the second.
'Dad, I'd like you to meet my friend Laurent,' Colleen signed.
Of course, Byrne thought. It wasn't Lauren. It wasn't even a girl. It was Laurent. His daughter was going on an overnighter with a man.
'How are you?' Byrne asked, not meaning it or caring, extending his hand. The kid shook his hand. Good grip, not too firm. Byrne thought about taking the kid to the ground and cuffing him, arresting him for daring to touch Colleen Byrne right in front of him, for daring to think of his only daughter as a woman. He put the impulse on hold for the moment.
'I'm quite well, sir. It's a pleasure to meet you.'
Not only was Laurent a guy, he had an accent.
'You're French?' Byrne asked.
'French Canadian,' Laurent said.
Close enough, Byrne thought. His daughter was being romanced by a foreigner.
They chatted about nothing at all for a while, the sorts of things young men talk about while on the one hand trying to impress a girl's father and on the other trying not to embarrass the girl. As
Byrne recalled, it was always a delicate balancing act. The kid was doing all right, Byrne thought, seeing as the routine was complicated by his having to speak out loud to Byrne, and sign everything to Colleen.
When the small talk was exhausted, Laurent said: 'Well, I know you two have things to talk about. I'll leave you to it.'
Laurent wandered a few feet off. Byrne could see the young man's shoulders relax, heard a loud sigh of relief.
Byrne understood. Maybe the kid was okay.
Colleen looked at her father, both eyebrows raised. What do you think?
Byrne butterflied a hand, smiled. Eh.
Colleen gave him a pretty good shot on the upper arm.
Byrne reached into his pocket, handed Colleen the check that was discreetly contained in a small envelope. Colleen spirited it away in her purse.
'Thanks, Dad. A couple of weeks, tops.'
Byrne waved another hand. 'How many times have I told you that you don't have to pay me back?'
'And yet I will.'
Byrne glanced at Laurent, then back. 'Can I ask you something?' he signed. He had learned to sign when Colleen was about seven and had taken to it surprisingly well, considering what a lousy student he had been in school. As Colleen got older and a lot of their communication became nonverbal, relying on body language and expression, he stopped studying. He could hold his own, but found himself completely lost around two or more deaf people blazing away.
'Sure,' Colleen signed. 'What is it?'
'Are you in love with this guy?'
Colleen gave him the look. Her mother's look. The one that said you just encountered a wall, and if you have any thoughts or dreams or hopes of getting over it you better have a ladder, a rope, and rappeling hooks.
She touched his cheek, and the battle was over. 'I'm in love with you,' she signed.
How did she manage to do this? Her mother had done the same thing to him two decades earlier. In his time on the job he had been shot on two different occasions. The impact of those two incidents was nothing compared to a single look from his ex-wife or daughter.
'Why don't you just ask me the question you're dying to ask?' she signed.
Byrne did his best to look confused. 'I don't know what you're talking about.'
Colleen rolled her eyes. 'I'll just go ahead and answer the question anyway. The one you were not going to ask me.'
Byrne shrugged. Whatever.
'No, we're not staying in the same room, Dad. Okay? Laurent's aunt has a big house in Stanton Park, and there are a million extra bedrooms. That's where I'll be sleeping. Locks on the door, guard dogs around the bed, honor and virtue intact.'
Suddenly, the world was once again a wonderful place.
Byrne stopped at the Starbuck's on Walnut Street. As he was paying, his cellphone vibrated in his pocket. He took it out, checked the screen. It was a text message from Michael Drummond, the assistant district attorney handling the Eduardo Robles grand jury investigation.
Where are you?
Byrne texted Drummond his location. A few seconds later he received a reply.
Meet me at Marathon.
Ten minutes later Byrne stood in front of the restaurant at 18th and Walnut. He looked up the street, saw Drummond approaching, talking on his cellphone. Michael Drummond was in his mid-thirties, trim and athletic, well-dressed. He looked like the archetypal Philadelphia defense attorney, yet he had somehow stayed in the prosecutor's office for almost ten years. That was about to change. After being courted for years by every high-powered defense firm in the city, he was finally moving on. There was a going-away party scheduled for him at Finnigan's Wake in a few days, a soiree at which Drummond would announce which white-shoe firm he had chosen.
'Counselor,' Byrne said. They shook hands.
'Good morning, detective.'
'How does it look today?'
Drummond smiled. 'Do you remember the tiger scene in Gladiator?'
'Something along those lines.'
'I'm just a flatfoot,' Byrne said. 'You might have to explain that one to me.'
Drummond looked over Byrne's shoulder, then over his own. He turned back. 'Eddie Robles is missing.'
Byrne just stared at Drummond, trying to keep all expression from his face. 'Is that a fact?'
'Facts are my life,' Drummomd said. 'I called over there this morning, and Robles's mother said Robles didn't come home last night. She said his bed is still made.'
'This guy has two bodies on him and he lives with his mother?'
'That does have a little bit of a Norman Bates vibe to it, now that you mention it.'
'We don't really need him to indict him, do we?' The question was rhetorical. The DA, as the saying went, could indict a ham sandwich. The sandwich did not need to be present.
'No,' Drummond said. 'But the jury is hearing another case today. That triple at the Fontana.'
The Fontana was a recently opened luxury condominium in Northern Liberties, a 100-million-dollar renovation project that had taken more than four years to complete. Three people had been shot, gangland style, in one of the units. It turned out that one of the victims was a former debutante who'd had a secret life that involved exotic dancing, drug dealing, and trysts with local sports celebrities. It was about as lurid as it got, which meant the story went viral within hours.
As of that morning, police had seven suspects in custody. The singing at the Roundhouse would commence shortly. Which meant that players for the Sixers, Eagles, Phillies, and Flyers were all sweating big time.
'I've got some serious time on this,' Byrne said. He knew that he had to play the game, and he was as good as anybody at it. Probably better.
'I know, Kevin. And I apologize. The Fontana case is high priority, and you know how things go. People forget, people run, people mysteriously disappear. Especially with a drug-homicide case.'
Byrne understood. The passions on a shocking and bloody case such as the Fontana ran high.
'What are we looking at?' he asked.
Drummond checked his BlackBerry. 'The jury will be back on Robles in three days when they meet again. I promise.'
It might not matter. Byrne knew that Philadelphia had a way of solving its own problems.
'Thanks for meeting with me, Michael.'
'Not a problem. Are you coming to my party?'
'Wouldn't miss it.'
They shook hands again. 'Don't worry about a thing, Kevin. Not a thing. Eddie Robles is history.'
Byrne just stared, impassive. 'Keep me posted.'
Byrne thought about heading to the Roundhouse, but he wasn't expected for a while. He had to think. He drove to York Street, parked across from the alley down which Eduardo Robles had walked.
Eddie Robles is missing.
Byrne got out of the car, looked up and down the street. A half- block away he found what he was looking for, something that he had not noticed before.
There, high above the sidewalk, glancing indifferently down at the street, was a police camera.
The Homicide Unit at the Roundhouse was a study in controlled bedlam. There were ninety detectives in the unit, working three shifts, seven days a week. The first floor was a winding labyrinthine warren of half-round rooms which made it a real challenge to place desks, file cabinets, computer tables – in other words, everything that might be needed in an office. Not that anyone went out of their way to give even a simple nod to the concept of decor in this place.
But there was a system, and that system worked. Philly Homicide had one of the highest solve rates of any homicide division in the country.
At noon, with most of the detectives at lunch or on the street, Jessica looked up to see Dana Westbrook crossing the room.
Sergeant Dana Westbrook was the new day-work supervisor, taking over for the retired Ike Buchanan. In her late forties, Westbrook was the daughter of a retired police inspector, and had been raised in Kensington. She was a Marine veteran of Desert Storm.
At first glance she was not the most intimidating figure. With her bobbed cut, just turning gray, and measuring in at just over five-four, she towered over no one. But she was in great physical shape, still adhered to the Marine circuit-workout four days a week, and could outrun and outperform women on the force half her age, as well as many of the men.
Being a woman in what was still and would probably always be a boys' club, her military training came in handy.
As in all police departments, indeed any paramilitary organization, there was a chain of command. From the commissioner to deputy commissioner, from chief inspector to staff inspector to captain, all the way to lieutenant and sergeant, then detective, officer, and recruit, it was a highly regimented institution. And shit, as they say in the military, doesn't flow uphill.
From day one, Dana Westbrook took a lot of shit.
When a call came in during day work – the eight a.m. to four p.m. shift – the desk detective took the information and brought it to the supervisor on duty. It was then the supervisor's job to initiate and coordinate the first crucial hours of the investigation. A lot of this involved telling men – some of whom had been in homicide for more than twenty years, all of whom had their own way of doing things, certainly their own pace and rhythms – where to go, who to talk to, when to come back. It involved judging their fieldwork, sometimes calling them on the carpet.
For male homicide detectives, who felt as if they were the Chosen, having someone tell them what to do was not an easy pill to swallow. To be told by a woman? This made the medicine bitter indeed.
Westbrook sat next to Jessica, opened a new file, clicked her pen. Jessica gave her the basic details, starting with the anonymous 911 call. Westbrook made her notes.
'Any sign of forced entry to the building?' Westbrook asked.
'Not sure. The place has probably been broken into many times, but there was no new splintering on the jamb.'
'What about vehicles parked near the scene?'
Jessica noticed for the first time that, besides her modest earrings, Dana Westbrook had four empty piercings in her right ear. 'We're running plates in a two-block radius, along with the vehicles parked in the school parking lot, cross-referencing the owners with wants and warrants. Nothing so far.'
Westbrook nodded, made a note of it.
'And we could also take a look at some of the footage our budding
Oscar winner took. I saw Albrecht getting some shots of the crowd across the street.'
'Good idea,' Westbrook said.
Sometimes a criminal, especially one guilty of murder, returned to the scene. Police were always aware that a crowd at a crime scene, or one gathered at a funeral, might contain the person they sought.
'And speaking of Albrecht, how much access does this kid get?' Jessica asked.
'Within reason,' Westbrook replied. 'He doesn't get inside the ME's office, of course. Or a hospital.'
'And why are we doing this, again?'
'He's the deputy commissioner's wife's cousin's son. Or something like that. He's plugged in, let's just put it that way. The deputy commissioner is a Penn State grad, you know.'
'Is Albrecht allowed to film a crime scene?'
'Well, word is, the brass is going to see a rough cut of this film and has final approval over it all. If anything compromises an ongoing investigation or is blatantly disrespectful to a victim or a victim's family it won't see the light of day. You can count on that.'
'So, we have the right to chuck him off a scene?'
'Absolutely,' Westbrook said. 'Just make sure Kevin doesn't do it when you're going seventy on 1-95.'
Jessica smiled. It hadn't taken long for Sergeant Dana Westbrook to get up to speed. 'I'll make a note.'
Westbrook stood. 'Keep me in the loop.'
'You got it, boss.'
Until they got an ID on the victim there wasn't too much they could do. The faster you got an ID, the faster you could get information such as where the victim lived, worked, went to school, played, and the faster you could begin to collect witness statements. Once identification was made, a person was also run through the various databases, specifically the National Crime Information Center and its local version, the Philadelphia Crime Information Center.
The victim was fingerprinted as soon as the body got to the morgue, but all you could do before identification was canvass the area around the crime scene, process any forensic material, and hope for the best. If they couldn't ID the victim, the best hope was that by the next day someone would have heard the news about the body and would start making calls about their husband, brother, son.
After finishing her initial report, Jessica would head back to the scene. People working early shifts would be getting home soon and just might have something to tell her.
She made a note to ask Kevin to reach out to a friend of his, a detective who worked out of South Detectives. The more eyes and ears on a homicide, especially at this stage, the better. Divisional detectives knew their turf and their criminals better than anyone.
Before she could do that she sensed someone nearby. She turned. Dennis Stansfield stood behind her. He was like a virus that she couldn't seem to shake.
'Can I help you with something, detective?' Jessica asked.
Stansfield pointed to the notepad on the desk. 'I didn't mean to look over your shoulder.'
'Well, lately I've heard some things about him.'
'Yeah. Detective Byrne.'
Jessica closed the folder on her desk, closed her notebook. She spun her chair around, stood up. She was not going to talk to this guy while she was sitting down. 'Like what sort of things?'
Stansfield glanced around the duty room, looked back, lowered his voice. 'Well, like maybe his heart's not in it anymore.'
'Yeah, and like maybe he's looking for the door. Like maybe he's not quite the cop he used to be.'
Jessica nodded. 'Interesting.'
'I'm just saying, you know? This is what I've heard. And from more than one person.'
'Well, Dennis,' Jessica said. 'Maybe you're right.'
Stansfield looked surprised. 'I am?'
'Yeah. Can I tell him you said this? I'm sure he'd like to hear it, seeing as it's going around.'
'Well, I'd really prefer you didn't,' Stansfield said. 'See, I was just saying that-'
'Then again, why don't you tell him yourself?'
'What do you mean?'
'He's right behind you.'
Stansfield spun around to find Kevin Byrne, who loomed over him by about five inches, standing there. It looked for a moment as though Stansfield was going to extend his hand in greeting. It looked for a moment as though Byrne was going to throw Stansfield out a window. Both men then thought better of it.
'Detective,' was all that Stansfield managed.
Byrne stared at him until Stansfield got really interested in the time of day. He glanced at his watch, then back at Jessica.
'I'm going to follow up on the owner of the building,' Stansfield said. 'I'm mobile if you need me.'
'Yeah,' Jessica said when Stansfield was out of earshot. 'That'll happen.' She turned to Byrne. 'Done with the grand jury already?'
Byrne shook his head. 'Postponed. They're hearing the Fontana case today.'
'Did Drummond tell you when you're back on?'
'Maybe next week.'
'Sucks.' The longer it went on, the more likely that people were going to catch amnesia.
Byrne pointed across the room, at the departing Stansfield. 'When did he go on day work?'
'Today,' Jessica said. 'The boss put him with me this morning. I caught a case.'
Jessica filled Byrne in on what they had found. They did not have crime-scene photographs yet, but Jessica had taken a few still pictures on her cellphone. She made it a practice never to print off any crime- scene photographs that she took with her own camera, even though there were no rules against it. It just made it a little too likely that personal photographs would get mixed in with official photographs, and things like that were what defense attorneys lived for. PhotoShop had changed everything.
Byrne stared at the images for a full minute, scrolling through them one by one.
'No ID yet?' he asked.
'Not yet,' Jessica said. 'Body's still on scene.'
Byrne handed back the phone. 'Any witnesses?'
'Nothing. I'm heading back there in a few minutes.'
Byrne looked across the room. David Albrecht sat at one of the desks, playing back footage on his camera's viewfinder.
'Who's the kid with the camera?'
Jessica explained David Albrecht's presence.
'Great,' Byrne said. 'Just what we need.'
Byrne checked the body chart, taking in the general details of the wounds to the victim, the placement of the body. 'Want some company?'
'I'll drive,' Jessica said.
'Let me get my stuff out of my car.'
In the rear parking lot they stopped at Byrne's car. It was a Kia Sedona minivan. Jessica had never seen it before.
'When did you get this?'
'It's a loaner from my cousin Patrick. Colleen is going to be moving soon and we're trying to keep the costs down. I'm bringing some of her stuff to a storage locker this week.'
'Do you like it?'
'Oh yeah,' Byrne said. 'Kias are true babe magnets. Had a few college cheerleaders flash me the other day.'
Byrne unlocked the passenger door, reached in, grabbed some things from the back seat. When he closed the door and turned around, Jessica did a double take.
Kevin Byrne had a stylish leather messenger bag over his shoulder.
'Oh my God,' Jessica said.
'Hang on.' Jessica took out her cellphone, opened it, pantomimed dialing a long phone number. A really long phone number. She held up a finger. 'Hi, is this Hell?'
Byrne shook his head.
'Yes,' Jessica continued. 'I was calling to get the current temperature. What's that you say? Five below? Snow squalls expected?'
'Funny stuff,' Byrne said. 'Let me get a table so I can catch the whole act.'
Jessica smiled, closed her phone. She leaned against the car, crossed her arms. 'I can't believe it. Kevin Byrne carrying a purse. I am so blogging about this.'
'It's a man bag.'
'And it's a Tumi. Tumi makes good stuff.'
'There's no question about that,' Jessica said. 'I have a Tumi purse myself.'
'This isn't a purse, okay? It's a-'
'Man bag,' Jessica said.
'And, just for the record, I never want to hear the words metro and sexual in the same sentence. Okay?'
'Promise,' Jessica said. Her fingers were secretly crossed behind her back. 'So, what made you decide to do this?'
Byrne leaned closer. 'It's just getting harder and harder to leave the house, you know? You have to have your keys, your cellphone, your pager, your sunglasses, your regular glasses, your iPod-'
'Wait. You have an iPod?'
'Yes, I have an iPod. What's so odd about that?'
'Well, for one thing, you still buy vinyl records. I just figured in a few years you'd make the giant leap to audiocassettes. Maybe even CDs one day.'
'I buy vinyl because it's collectible. Especially the old blues.'
'Remember your uniform days when everything went on your belt? Ami what didn't go on your belt fitted in your shirt pocket?'
'I remember, but keep in mind there's even less room up there for female cops.'
'I'm a detective,' Byrne said. 'I've noticed that.'
I le took a few steps back, gestured to the cut of his new suit, which Jessica had to admit looked pretty good on him. It was a charcoal gray two-button.
'Think about it,' he said. 'If I put all that stuff in my pockets it would ruin the line.'
'The line?' Jessica put her hand on the butt of her weapon. 'Okay, who are you and what have you done with my partner?'
'Well, now that you carry a bag,' Jessica continued, 'you should keep in mind one of the first things they taught us at the academy.'
'I may be older than slate, but I seem to recall going to that academy myself. Over on State Road, right?'
'That's the one,' Jessica said. 'But what I meant by "us" was, well, women.''
Byrne braced himself, said nothing.
'They taught us to never, ever, carry your weapon in a purse.'
There was that word again. Byrne looked at the sky, back at Jessica. 'This is going to go on for a while, isn't it?'
The CSU team was still processing the scene on Federal Street, which now had crime-scene tape crossing both ends of the alley. As always, a crowd had gathered to watch the proceedings. It always amazed Jessica how no one ever saw anything, heard anything, witnessed anything, but as soon as the investigation got underway, as soon as there was some sort of urban circus to attend, everyone was suddenly available to gawk and rubberneck, conveniently off work and out of school.
When Jessica and Byrne came around the corner there was a meeting of supervisors. Among them was ADA Michael Drummond.
'Counselor,' Byrne said.
'Twice in one day,' Drummond replied. 'People will talk.' He turned to Jessica. 'Nice to see you, Jess.'
'Always a pleasure,' Jessica said. 'But what brings you out here?'
'I've got court in about an hour, but these were orders from Valhalla. New DA, new initiatives. Anything that happens this close to a school gets priority. My boss wants to watch this one from the beginning. He barks, I fetch.'
'Copy me in on everything?' Drummond asked.
'Not a problem,' Jessica said.
Jessica and Byrne watched as Drummond crossed the street, positioning himself far from the crime scene. Jessica knew why. If an ADA was close to the action, he might witness something, and therefore be called as a witness on his own case, which was grounds for dismissal. It was a game they all knew how to play.
Jessica watched as Byrne walked up to the mouth of the alley, spoke to the uniformed officer. The uniform pointed to the two buildings behind the crime scene, nodded his head. Byrne took out his notebook, began to jot down details.
Jessica had seen it before.
Murder had been done here, and Kevin Byrne was in his element.
Byrne walked down the alley, his senses on high alert, his adrenalin surging. It was odd, to say the least. No matter how fatigued he was – today, on a 1 to 10, he would clock in at a bone-weary 7 – it all seemed to melt away when he got to a crime scene. Crime scenes were crack for investigators. Addictive, euphoric, replenishing, ultimately depleting. There was no other feeling like it. The best meal, the finest wine, even soul-shaking sex did not come close.
Okay, Byrne thought. Maybe sex.
He took in the approach to the area where the body had been found. The air was suffused with the stench of rotting fruit coming from the Dumpster a few yards away, and the unmistakable aroma of death coming from the shoe store.
He walked down the stairs, opened the door. Although the smell was almost overpowering in here, it was not the first thing he sensed. Instead, that was a feeling, an impression that he had just stepped across the boundary of a killer's mind, had just become an interloper in a realm of madness.
There is a pairing, a balance, a partnership.
Byrne stopped, waiting for more. Nothing. Not yet.
In addition to his upcoming appointment with the sleep-study clinic, he had his annual MRI screening. He'd had yearly MRIs for the past five years, ever since he had been nearly fatally injured in a shooting. He knew everyone in the hospital radiology department, and the mood was always light-hearted when he went there, but they all knew what it was about. There was, and always would be, a possibility of a brain tumor. He'd read all the books on symptoms and signs – blackouts, voices in your head, sometimes unexplained smells.
In a separate incident, many years earlier, he had confronted a suspect in a bar beneath the Walt Whitman Bridge. During the course of the arrest Byrne had plunged into the frigid Delaware River, locked in combat with the suspect. When he was pulled out of the water Byrne was declared dead. One full minute later he came to.
Not long after that the visions had started. They were never fullblown apparitions. He did not show up at a scene, close his eyes, and see any sort of recreation of the crime in Technicolor and THX audio. Instead, it was more of a feeling. Sometimes it crossed over into the dominion of sense and sensation, but mostly he got a feel for the victim, the perpetrator. A thought, a dream, a desire, a habit.
Byrne had been to group-therapy sessions of every kind, even going to a regression-therapy group that tried to take him back to that moment when he'd plunged into the river, an attempt to bring him back to the person he had been before the incident. Byrne now knew that was impossible.
The visions had diminished over the ensuing years as had the accompanying migraines. These days they were few and far between.
He had not had anything close to a full-blown migraine lately, but he knew something was happening inside him. More than once, in the last few months, he had experienced something… not pain, more of a presence, a thickness in his head, along with a slight blurring of vision. And with these feelings came the clearest inner visions he'd ever had, now accompanied by sounds. Then, sometimes, a blackout.
He was still undecided on whether or not to mention these things to his doctor. Telling a doctor something like this only led to more tests.
He stepped into the room where a dead man lay on the floor. Byrne's heart picked up a beat, quickening with the knowledge that a killer had stood in this spot no more than twenty-four hours earlier, breathing the same air.
Just when he was about to begin his routine, a warm sensation filled his head. He held onto the door jamb for a second, attempting to ride it out. With the warmth came the knowledge of…
… something that has burned for many years, a feeling of loss and desire, a dark passion that will forever be unfulfilled, a love story unwritten, unwritable, the hunger to create a legacy…
Byrne knelt down, snapped on a latex glove, then instantly thought better of it. He removed the glove. He needed the feel of the flesh. A dialogue happened between the skin of the dead and his senses. A superior officer, or a representative of the medical examiner's office would surely object. That didn't matter at the moment. He was alone with the dead, alone with what had happened in this room, alone with the rage that drove someone to brutally take a life.
Alone with himself.
Kevin Byrne reached out and touched a finger to the dead man's lips. He closed his eyes, listened, and the dead man spoke.
Jessica and Byrne spent the next hour separately canvassing the neighborhood for a second time. They learned a great deal about cheating spouses, lazy landlords, illegal parking, possible international drug cartels, alien invasions, more illegal parking, and – a fan favorite – government conspiracies. In other words, nothing.
At three o'clock Jessica met Byrne back at the corner of Fifth and Federal to compare notes.
'Jess,' Byrne said, pointing down the street.
Jessica turned and saw two figures sitting in a vacant lot, sandwiched between a pair of old row houses. The detectives were being observed.
Jessica and Byrne walked a half-block up Federal. David Albrecht, who had just returned from getting some high-angle shots from nearby rooftops, followed, but kept his distance.
Iwo older men sat on lawn chairs across the street from the ball field. They had racing forms on their laps, along with the sports sections of that morning's Inquirer. They were in their late seventies and had their chairs positioned in such a way that each could see what was approaching but still be close enough to converse. Jessica had the distinct feeling they didn't miss much.
One of the guys wore at least three cardigans, each a slightly different shade of maroon. The other wore a fishing hat with a button saying Kiss Me I'm Italian on it, a button so old that most of the letters were rubbed off. Now, from a few feet away, it looked like Kiss It. Jessica wondered if that wasn't on purpose. She showed her badge, introducing herself and Kevin Byrne.
When the men saw they were police officers they sat a little straighten
Jessica asked: 'You fellows out here every day?'
'Every morning, every afternoon,' Cardigans said. 'Rain or shine. 'Cept when it rains, then we sit over there.' He pointed to an old storefront with a metal awning.
'In winter we meet at Mulroney's,' added Fishing Hat.
Mulroney's was a tavern on the other side of the playground, a fixture that had been around since sometime during the Truman administration.
Jessica asked the men what, if anything, they had seen the previous day. After a brief rundown of the day's events – a Philadelphia Inquirer delivery truck got a flat tire, some idiot on a cellphone was yelling at his wife or girlfriend and almost walked into the traffic on Federal, a dog came up and snatched one of their lunch bags right from under the chair – they got around to what they had seen at or near the crime- scene building.
'You didn't see anybody doing anything suspicious, anybody you haven't seen in the neighborhood before?' Byrne asked.
'Nah,' Cardigans said. 'We're the only suspicious characters around here.'
Jessica jotted down the meager information.
'You guys got here pretty quick earlier this morning,' Cardigans said.
'We were on a donut run around the corner,' Jessica said. 'It was on the way.'
Cardigans smiled. He liked her.
'Not like the last time,' Fishing Hat interjected.
Jessica glanced over at Byrne, back. 'I'm sorry?' she said. 'The last time?'
'Yeah. That other one?'
'The other one.'
'The other dead one they found in there.' Fishing Hat pointed to the crime-scene building, saying all this like it was common knowledge, worldwide.
'There was another victim found in that building?' Jessica asked.
'Oh, yeah,' he said. 'Place is a slaughterhouse. A regular abbytwar.'
Jessica figured he meant abattoir. She stole another glance at Byrne. ' This was getting better by the minute. Or worse. 'When was this again?'
'2002,' Fishing Hat said. 'Spring of 2002.'
'Nah,' Cardigans said. 'It was '04.'
Fishing Hat looked over, as if the other man had just told him the pope was a woman. '2004? What are you, drunk? It was 2002. March 21st. Mickey Quindlen's grandson broke his arm on the playground. My wife's brother came in from Cinnaminson, rammed his fucking car into the house.' He looked at Jessica. 'Excuse my German.'
'I speak German,' Jessica said.
'Uniforms came around noon. Suits didn't show up until midnight. I believe I can say all this without fear of contraception.'
Cardigans nodded, acquiescing.
'Uniforms? Suits?' Jessica asked. 'Did you used to be a cop?'
'Cop? Nah. I worked the docks, forty-one years. I just like that Law and Order show. The guy with the big teeth says that kind of stuff all the time.'
'He's dead now,' Cardigans said.
Fishing Hat looked at his friend. 'He is? Since when?'
'Long time now.'
'He ain't dead on the show.'
'No. Not on the show he ain't. Just in real life.'
A respectful silence fell over the group for a moment.
'He was a longshoreman, too,' Fishing Hat said then, crooking a thumb at his buddy. 'Back in the day, we were all over. All over. Oregon Avenue, up to South Street, Front Street, Third Street. Not like now. Now I got a lawyer living next door to me. A lawyer. There goes the neighborhood.'
Jessica made a few more notes as Cardigans looked closely at Byrne. 'You look familiar,' Cardigans said. 'You ever work the docks?'
'My father did,' Byrne said. 'Thirty-five years.'
Cardigans snapped his fingers. 'Paddy Byrne.'
'You look just like him.' He turned to Fishing Hat. 'Did you know Paddy?'
Fishing Hat shook his head.
'This guy was a legend on Pier 96.' He turned back to Byrne. 'How is he these days?'
'He's good,' Byrne said. 'Thanks for asking.'
'So how come you didn't follow in his footsteps? Get an honest job?'
'The docks are too dangerous for me,' Byrne said. 'And I prefer a higher class of criminal.'
Cardigans laughed. 'Yeah. You're Paddy's boy.'
'So, what else can you tell me about this other victim?' Jessica asked, trying to bring the conversation back around.
Both men shrugged in tandem. 'Not much, 'cept that it was a woman,' Fishing Hat said. 'They locked the place up for years. Guy who owned it couldn't even go back in there. Said he was afraid of ghosts or something. He sold it to some guy from Pittsburgh, who sold it to someone else.'
Jessica looked around. 'What's the neighborhood, guys?'
'Some say Queen Village but they don't know shit.'
'What do you say?'
'We say Pennsport. Because it is Pennsport. We're south of Washington, for Chrissake.'
'Did a detective talk to you guys about that case back in '02?' Jessica asked.
'Just me,' Cardigans said.
'Do you remember their names? The detectives?'
Cardigans shook his head.
'He don't remember his kids' names,' Fishing Hat said. 'And he's only got four of 'em.'
'Did you know the victim?'
'No. I heard she was a real hot number, though. Damn shame.'
The information would be easy enough to find, but probably wasn't relevant. Jessica thanked the two men, got their contact information – names, addresses, phone numbers – and gave them both a business card, along with the standard request for them to call if they thought of anything else.
'You come back anytime,' Fishing Hat said. 'We always have time to talk to pretty young girls.'
Jessica smiled. Pretty young girls. She'd come back tomorrow.
Jessica and Byrne returned to the Roundhouse, collated their witness statements, putting them in the binder. While they waited for the coroner's preliminary reports, as well as any forensic findings, they turned their attention to other matters of importance.
They each had a case on which they were working. Both cases had stalled, and there was no worse feeling for a homicide detective than the sense that an investigation was slipping away from them. While Byrne made calls to the four witnesses he needed for the grandjury probe of Eduardo Robles, just to keep the pot simmering, Jessica looked up some addresses, trying to align the witnesses in another case.
Two weeks earlier a gun had been left at the scene of a drugrelated homicide. The weapon had been traced back to a woman named Patricia Lentz, a known drug addict and prostitute.
The Lentz apartment was on North 19th Street near Cecil B. Moore. When Jessica and Byrne arrived, they found the door open, TV blasting, something burning on the stove. The first floor was a haze of vile smoke, a landfill of soiled mattresses, broken furniture, spent crack vials and empty liquor bottles.
They found Patricia Lentz passed out beneath a pile of clothing in the basement. At first Jessica did not think she was going to find a pulse. But the woman had just passed out and, once she'd been revived by paramedics, was taken into custody without incident.
Whereas the suspect was in custody, her apartment had not yet been cleared. Jessica was quite familiar with the layout of these row houses and knew there were two more rooms upstairs. While Byrne turned the barely coherent woman over to the uniformed officers for transport to the Roundhouse, Jessica continued upstairs. She cleared the first small bedroom, and the bathroom. When she walked into the second bedroom she found there was a closet. She eased open the door.
Jessica froze. There, on the floor in front of her, partially hidden by a plastic garbage bag bursting at the seams with rotting trash, was a little boy. No more than two years old. A dark-haired little boy dressed in a ragged T-shirt and diaper. It appeared that he had crawled beneath the garbage for warmth.
Reaching down into the closet, she picked up the boy. He was shivering with fear, miserable in his soiled diaper. There were rashes on his arms and legs.
'It's okay, little man,' Jessica said. 'It's okay.'
On the way out of the house, Jessica found a pile of papers on a card table near the front door. They were mostly unpaid bills, flyers for pizza and Chinese takeout, shut-off notices. Also on the table was a photograph of an infant lying on a dirty bed sheet. Jessica could not mistake those eyes. It was the little boy she had in her arms. She flipped the picture over. It read Carlos age three months.
His name was Carlos.
Jessica brought the boy back to the Roundhouse to await a representative from the Department of Human Services. She had stopped along the way and bought diapers, wipes, lotion, powder. It had been a long time since she had done these things with Sophie, but it was like riding a bike: she hadn't forgotten.
Cleaned up, shiny and combed, Carlos sat at one of the desks, on top of a pile of phone books, secured to the chair with an empty ammunition belt. Someone found a Philadelphia Eagles child's sweatshirt. It was a little too big, so they rolled up the sleeves and Scotch-taped them gently around the boy's wrists.
The boy's mother, Patricia Lentz, was booked on first-degree murder charges, and the case was a lock. They had the murder weapon, ballistics matched, and Lentz would not be coming back for a long time. Carlos would have children of his own by the time she got out.
'What's going on with Carlos?' Byrne asked, bringing Jessica back to the present and the new case at hand.
Jessica had to take a second. The last thing you wanted to do in this room, even with your partner, who knew you better than anyone in your life, was display any emotion besides anger.
'Nothing,' Jessica said. 'They still haven't been able to find Patricia Lentz's sister. Word is that she's an even bigger crackhead.'
Jessica knew it was no secret, especially to Kevin Byrne, that she and Vincent had been trying for two years to have another child. Sophie was now seven, and the longer they waited, well, all the books said you really didn't want too much of an age gap between siblings. The very notion of undertaking the monumental task of adopting Carlos was, of course, a ridiculous idea. During daylight hours, anyway. But when Jessica lay awake in the middle of the night it all seemed possible. Then the sun would come up again and she realized it would never happen.
'How is he doing?' Byrne asked.
'Good, I guess,' Jessica said. She really didn't know if that was true or not, but it was the only answer she had.
'If you want, we can stop in at the Department of Human Services and check on him.'
The sooner Jessica let go, the better it would be. Still, she knew what she was going to say. 'Sure. That would be good.'
Before they could discuss it further, Nicci Malone poked her head into the duty room. 'Kevin, you have a call.'
Byrne crossed the room, hit a button, answered. A few moments later he pulled out his notebook, wrote something in it, punched a fist through the air. It was clearly good news. Jessica needed some good news.
Byrne hung up, grabbed his coat. 'That was the ID Unit.'
The ID Unit processed latent fingerprints.
'Are we on?' Jessica asked.
'We are,' Byrne said. 'Our cleanshaven dead man has a name. Kenneth Arnold Beckman.'
The Beckman house was a gaunt and peeling postwar row house on West Tioga Street, in the Nicetown area of North Philadelphia. Nicetown was a blue-collar section of the city that was slowly recovering after three decades of slow decline, a slide culminating in the Tastykake company moving out of the area in 2007. At one time it was rumored that Trump Entertainment would be building a casino on Hunting Park Avenue. It never happened. The only gambling being done in Nicetown these days was among those residents and store owners debating whether or not to hang onto their property.
Before leaving the Roundhouse, Jessica asked Josh Bontrager to run a check on Kenneth Arnold Beckman. Bontrager would call if there was anything to report.
When Jessica and Byrne pulled to a stop in front of the Beckman house, near Schuyler Street, it began to rain. The wind picked up, and when they stepped onto the porch wet leaves gathered at their feet.
Jessica rang the bell three times before noticing that there was a wire hanging out from the bottom of the rusted panel. The bell didn't work. A quick look at the crumbling porch, with its leaning support pillars and brickwork desperately in need of tuck pointing, explained why. She knocked on the door, gently at first. The second time she knocked harder. Eventually they heard the deadbolts begin to turn. There were three of them.
The woman who answered the door was a hard forty. Her platinum hair was perm-fried, her make-up looked like it had been applied with a paper towel. She wore black Capri pants and battered pink running shoes. A lighted cigarette hung from the corner of her mouth.
Looking Byrne up and down, she tossed a sideways glance at Jessica.
'Are you Mrs. Beckman?' Byrne asked.
'Well, now,' she replied. 'That would depend on two things, wouldn't it?'
'And what would those two things be?'
'Who you are and what the fuck you want.'
Oh boy, Jessica thought. We've got a real charmer here.
Byrne took out his ID, badged the woman. She stared at it far too long. Jessica figured this was an attempt on the woman's part to establish some sort of power dynamic. What the woman didn't know was that Kevin Byrne could outlast a glacier. She looked at Jessica, raising a painted-on eyebrow. Jessica reached into her pocket, showed the woman her ID. The woman sniffed, turned back to Byrne.
'Well, that answers one of my questions,' she said.
'May we come in?' Byrne asked.
The woman blinked a few times, as if Byrne was speaking another language. 'Can you hear me?' she asked.
'Can you hear my voice?'
'Yes,' Byrne said. 'I can hear your voice.'
'Good. I hear you too. We can talk right here.'
Jessica sensed Byrne's gloves coming off. He pulled out his notebook, flipped a few pages. 'What's your first name, ma'am?'
'Is your husband Kenneth Arnold Beckman?'
The woman snorted. 'Husband? That's one way of putting it.'
'Are you married to him, ma'am?'
The woman took a long drag on her cigarette. Jessica noted that the nicotine stains on her fingers reached down to her knuckles. She blew out the smoke, and with it her answer. 'Barely.'
'When was the last time you saw him?'
'Right now I just need you to answer the question, ma'am. I'll explain why in a moment.'
Another drag. Jessica estimated that, if they were going to get through the basic questions at this pace, Sharon Beckman would go through a pack and a half. 'Yesterday afternoon.'
'About what time?'
Another sigh. 'About three o'clock.'
'And where was this?'
'It was at the MGM Grand in Vegas. I'm a dancer there.'
Byrne stared, the woman stared. She rolled her eyes.
'It was right about where you're standing,' she said. 'I think he said something like "Clean the kitchen, you lazy fucking bitch." Real Hallmark moment.'
The wind picked up again, blowing a thin cold rain across the porch. Byrne moved a few feet to his right, making sure that Sharon Beckman caught the rain directly in her face.
'Was he alone at the time?'
'Yeah,' Sharon Beckman said, stepping back a foot. 'For once.'
'And he did not come home last night?'
The woman snorted. 'Why break with tradition?'
Byrne pressed on. 'Does anyone else live here?'
'Just my son.'
My son, Jessica thought. Not our son.
'How old is he?'
The woman smiled. Her teeth were the same color as her tobacco- stained knuckles. 'Why, officer. That would be giving away my age.' When Byrne didn't respond, didn't budge, didn't seem to be weakkneed by the woman's coquettish charms, she repositioned her scowl, hit her cigarette again, and said, 'He's nineteen. I had him when I was six.'
Byrne made the note. He then asked her what the kid's name was. She told him. Jason Crandall.
'Where does your husband work?'
'Hey. You writing a fucking book here? My autobiography, maybe?'
'Ma'am, we're just trying to-'
'No. What you need to do is tell me what this is about or we're done here. I know my rights.'
Jessica knew the notification was coming, so she watched the woman's face as she took in the news. You could tell a lot from the initial reaction to the news that a loved one has been killed. Or even one not so loved.
'Mrs. Beckman, your husband was murdered yesterday.'
The woman drew a sharp intake of breath, but other than that betrayed nothing. Except, perhaps, for a slight shake in her hands, which deposited a long cigarette ash on the floor. She stared out at the street for a moment, turned back. 'How did he get it?'
Get it, Jessica thought. Most people said 'What?' or 'Oh my God' or 'No!' or something like that. How did he get it? No, not too many people ask how the deceased became deceased. That usually came a bit later in the conversation.
'May we come in, ma'am?' Byrne said. 'It's getting a little nasty out here.'
The news had undone the woman's resolve, as well as her animosity. Without saying a word, she opened the door and stepped to the side.
They entered the house, a standard porchfront-style row house, large by Philly standards, probably measuring around 1500 square feet on three floors. It was quickly degenerating, already long past its sell- by date.
The living room was directly to the left, with a hallway leading to a kitchen and a stairway at the back of the house. The walls were painted a cheerless, faded baby blue. The furniture was worn, mismatched, spring-shocked. A half-eaten Weight Watchers dinner sat on a coffee table, next to an overflowing ashtray. Cat hair covered nearly every surface. The place smelled like microwave popcorn.
Sharon Beckman did not offer them a seat. Jessica would have passed on that offer anyway.
'Ma'am,' Byrne said. 'We're here because your husband was a victim of homicide. We're trying to find out who did this, and bring that person to justice.'
'Yeah? Well, look in the fucking mirror,' the woman spat.
'I understand your anger,' Byrne continued. 'But if there's anything you can think of that might help us, we would really appreciate it.'
The woman lit another Salem off the first cigarette, held them both for a few moments, one in each hand.
'Can you think of anyone who might have had a problem with your husband?' Byrne asked. 'Someone he owed money to? Someone with whom he had a business problem?'
The woman took a full five seconds to answer. Maybe she did have something to hide.
'Do I need a lawyer?' Sharon Beckman asked. She butted out the short cigarette.
'Have you done anything wrong, Mrs. Beckman?' Byrne asked. It was Cop Speak 101. Standard across the world when police arrive at the lawyer moment.
'Plenty,' she said.
Wrong answer, Jessica thought. The woman was trying to be cute, but she didn't realize that a picture was being painted, and every stroke mattered.
'Well, then, I can't answer your question,' Byrne said. 'If you feel the need for counsel at this time, by all means call your attorney. I can tell you that you are not suspected of anything. You are a witness, and a very important witness. All we need to do is ask you a few questions. The more you tell us, the likelier it will be that we can find the person who did this to your husband.'
Jessica made another quick perusal of the room. There were no photographs of the Beckmans on the mantel over the bricked-in fireplace, no soft-focus wedding day portraits in tacky gold-painted frames.
'If you'll just bear with us a little longer,' Byrne continued, 'we'll get the information we need, and we'll leave you to your thoughts and your arrangements.'
Sharon Beckman just stared. Byrne led her through the rest of the standard questions, giving her the standard assurances. He concluded by asking her if she had a photograph of her husband.
While Sharon Beckman was in the hallway, going through a legal- sized cardboard box, looking for the photograph, the front door opened.
The kid who entered looked younger than nineteen. Stringy blond hair, surfer cool, hooded, stoned eyes. When he saw Byrne he must have figured him for a cop, and he shoved his right hand deep into his baggy shorts. Dope pocket.
'How ya doin?' the kid mumbled.
'Good, thanks,' Byrne said. 'Are you Jason?'
The kid looked up, shocked, like there was no way that Byrne could have possibly gotten this information. 'Yeah.' Barely audible. The kid leaned back on his heels, as if that might increase the distance between them. Jessica could smell the marijuana on his clothes from ten feet away.
'Kenny's dead,' Sharon Beckman said, walking back into the room, a pair of old snapshots in her hand. She handed them to Jessica.
Jason stared at his mother, blinking. It was as if the words hadn't yet reached his brain. 'Dead?'
'Yeah. Like in not alive anymore?'
Jessica looked at the kid. No reaction.
Over the next few minutes Byrne asked Jason the basic questions, got the expected answers. Jason said he had not seen his stepfather in more than three days.
'Once again, we're sorry for your loss,' Byrne said to them both, putting away his notebook. He dropped a pair of business cards on the cluttered coffee table. 'If you think of anything that might help us, please call.'
They walked the half-block to the car, adrift on their own thoughts, sizing up the subdued reactions of Beckman's widow and stepson. It was not the usual response they got from notification, to say the least.
The temperature had dropped a few degrees since they had entered the Beckman house. The rain continued, getting colder. For the first time that year, it felt as if it might snow.
In the parking lot at the Roundhouse they saw Josh Bontrager getting into one of the detective cars. Spotting them, Bontrager closed the door and crossed the lot. Dennis Stansfield, already in the car, wisely stayed put.
'What's up, Josh?' Byrne asked.
'Have you made notification yet?'
'Just did. What do you have?'
'I ran Kenneth Beckman,' Bontrager said. 'A couple of things jumped out.'
'Well, at one time he was a person of interest.'
Bontrager meant that the deceased had been looked at by the police for some sort of crime.
'What was the job?' Jessica asked.
Jessica felt her pulse kick up a notch. 'This guy was looked at for a murder? When was this?'
'How far did the investigation go?'
'They had him in, but I guess he didn't roll,' Bontrager said. 'The detective working the case kept an eye on the guy for a few years, made a few more notes, but then it went cold. Nothing in the file since '06.'
'Who was the victim?'
Bontrager pulled out his notebook. 'A nineteen-year-old girl named Antoinette Chan. Cause of death was multiple blunt-force trauma. Weapon was a claw hammer found at the scene. The weapon had been wiped clean of prints.'
'What was the date?' Jessica asked.
Bontrager flipped a few pages. 'March 21, 2002.'
A cold finger traced a path along Jessica's spine. It was the date that the old codgers had mentioned earlier. She shot a look at Byrne, who also seemed transfixed by the information.
'I'm going to take a ride over to Record Storage, get the whole story,' Bontrager said.
'We'll do it,' Byrne said. 'Check out the next of kin in the Chan family, see where they are, who they are. If they held Beckman responsible they may be worth looking at.'
Josh Bontrager got into the car, drove away, a stone-faced Dennis Stansfield in the passenger seat.
'What do you think?' Jessica asked.
Byrne took a few moments to answer. He absently ran a finger over the small V-shaped scar located above his right eye, a keloid souvenir of the time he had been grazed by a bullet years ago. Jessica knew this meant the wheels were turning.
'I think we need to see that original file.' He looked at his watch. 'But first I want to have another word with the lovely and talented Mrs. Beckman.' He looked back at Jessica. 'Funny she didn't mention any of this.'
'Right. When I asked her if she knew who might have done this and she said "Look in the fucking mirror" I didn't really get it. Now I do. She blames the police.'
'What a rarity,' Byrne said. 'And she seemed so nice.'
'Real debutante,' Jessica said. 'I'll run checks on her and the stoned kid. See where they were and what they were doing in March '02.'
'I'll meet you at Record Storage,' Byrne said. 'Call me if she has any wants or warrants. I don't care if Sharon Beckman did just lose her husband. I'd love to toss her in a cage for a while.'
'Oh, please,' Jessica said. 'You just like putting women in handcuffs.'
In the first ten minutes after the police left her house, Sharon Beckman found she couldn't move. She stood by the front door, paralyzed.
Jason went back out. God only knew what he did these days. What Jason had not told the cops was that the last time he had seen Kenny the two had gotten into a fist fight. The last thing Jason had said to his stepfather was 'If you ever touch me again I'm going to fucking kill you.'
That was not something you told the police. She knew Jason would never do anything like that, but they didn't.
The house was quiet.
Kenny was dead.
Sharon knew she was supposed to be feeling something, something akin to grief, something like heartache, but she didn't. All she felt was a faint cold fear. And the knowledge that she had to move. Fast.
From right when she'd first met Kenny, Sharon had known it was all going to fall apart one day. It wasn't like she didn't know who he was when they'd met, what kind of life she was getting into. She was no angel herself. But eight years ago, when Kenny had robbed all those houses and put himself on the police radar, she'd known a day like this would come.
When she had set fire to the house on Lenox Avenue, back in 2002, destroying all that evidence, she'd known she'd pay for it some day. Today. She had been a little sorry that the whole block had gone up in flames, but no one had got hurt. She didn't lose much sleep over it. There was no love lost between her and her neighbors on Lenox Avenue anyway. Fucking lowlife crackheads.
She turned around three times in the living room, trying to organize her thoughts, trying to think straight.
She should have left a long time ago. When cops followed up on things it was a clear sign that they had you in their sights. Cops always knew a lot more than they let on. It was like those jobs she used to go on with her father when she was small. Her dad would work on somebody's plumbing, and when he was all done he'd turn the water back on and slide a sheet of newspaper under the pipes. If one drop of water fell, blotting out on the paper, the job was shit. Her father would always tear it out and start over. If there was one solitary drop there was certain to be more.
Same thing with cops.
Drip, drip, drip.
Then they had you.
Kenny had put all the new stolen merchandise into a storage locker on Linden Avenue. He'd learned the first time not to keep anything in the house. They both had. She wasn't sure what he had in there these days and that was fine with her. The less she knew, the better.
Sharon also knew what Kenny had done to that girl in 2002, even as she tried hard to block it out of her mind. Of course, there wasn't a jury in the world that would give a shit. They had gotten away with it once, but now that Kenny was dead everything was going to fall on her like a load of bricks. There was no way she could deal with this on her own. She knew at least a dozen people who might have wanted to do Kenny in, a dozen people who'd had a beef with him, and once the police realized this they were going to see her as a link. It was only a matter of time until they revisited the Antoinette Chan case. She knew how hard cops worked on burglaries. They didn't give up until they had you in a jail cell.
Sharon ran upstairs. She would load the car with what she could, go find Jason. She would get the keys to the Master lock that was on the door at the storage locker, throw them in the Delaware River, and she and her son would be long gone.
But where would they go? They couldn't go to her sister's in Toledo. That would be the first place they'd look. She had exactly eight hundred twenty-six dollars to her name. Plus whatever was in the coin jar, plus whatever was in the gas tank.
Sharon was only forty-four. Still young. Still had her looks, or whatever looks she'd had to begin with. She'd start a new life. Meet a man with a real job.
Kenny was dead.
Before she could get her things out of the drawers in the upstairs bedroom she heard a noise.
'Jason?' No answer.
She listened for a few more moments, heard nothing. Must have been the brats next door, she thought. One day they'd thrown a basketball against an adjoining wall for three straight hours. She wouldn't miss them.
She grabbed her two battered suitcases from the top shelf of the bedroom closet, began to stuff them with clothing. She soon realized she would need some big plastic garbage bags to take it all.
Sharon ran down the stairs, her mind racing in a hundred different directions. When she turned the corner toward the kitchen she saw the shadow on the wall. She stopped, spun around, her heart pounding.
It wasn't Jason.
The building at 31st and Market streets where old police records were kept had once been the offices and publishing plant of the Evening Bulletin. The Bulletin, published from 1847 to 1982, was at one time the largest evening newspaper in the United States.
Now the massive and deceptively benign-looking building was fenced and sealed like Fort Knox, with concertina wire ringing the exposed public areas. The enormous brick wall that faced the parking lot rose more than four stories and boasted only five small windows near the roofline. A dozen or so parking-lot lights jutted from the wall like rusted bowsprits.
Jessica signed in at the gate, drove in, parked. She was about twenty minutes late, but had not spotted Byrne's van. She decided to wait in the car.
Before leaving the Roundhouse she had run Sharon Beckman and Jason Crandall through the databases. The kid had a misdemeanor possession charge from last year, a charge that was dropped when Jason did community service.
Sharon Beckman had no record.
Jessica thought about how the case was developing. The bizarre condition of Kenneth Beckman's corpse was still a mystery and indicated something that festered deep in the heart of the killer, something personal and twisted. She thought about the paper band wrapped around the victim's head, the way the cut traversed the forehead, the way the There was a loud sound, inches from her left ear, a cracking noise that made her jump. She spun in her seat, her hand automatically unsnapping her holster.
Byrne had tapped her window with his ring. Jessica slowly rolled down the window, making him wait in the drizzling rain.
'This is how people get shot, you know,' Jessica said.
'I could use the rest.'
She took her time getting out of the car, driving home her point. A minute later they entered the building, walked over to the elevators, shaking off the rain.
'Did you talk to Sharon Beckman again?' Jessica asked.
Byrne shook his head. 'She wasn't home,' Byrne said. 'Neither was Spicoli.'
Referencing the Sean Penn role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Byrne was, of course, referring to Jason Crandall. Jessica had no idea where Kevin Byrne's frame of cultural references began and ended.
In the extensive basement were records for thousands of crimes, some going back two hundred years, the residue of a city's shame: names, dates, weapons, wounds, witnesses. What was absent was the evidence of loss. There was no record to be found here of a father's tears, a son's loneliness, or a grandmother's empty Sundays.
Instead, here were block after block of huge steel shelving racks, some reaching twenty feet high, each packed firm with thousands of cardboard boxes, each box tagged with a white label detailing name of the deceased, case number, and year.
They split up the Beckman files. Byrne read the witness statements and forensic reports, while Jessica went through the original police reports and the notes written by the lead detective.
Just inside the binder was a picture of Antoinette Chan. She'd been a pretty girl, with flawless skin and a beguiling smile. Jessica moved on to the police report on Beckman.
Kenneth Arnold Beckman, born in 1970, was originally from the Brewerytown area of Philadelphia. At the time of Antoinette Chan's murder he had worked as a handyman for a pair of apartment complexes in Camden, and had lived in the Nicetown/Tioga area on Lenox Avenue.
By the age of twenty-nine he had been arrested five times for breaking and entering, twice convicted of possession of stolen merchandise.
In 2001 Beckman took his ten-year-old stepson Jason trick-ortreating on North 18th Street between Westmoreland and Venango. They went door to door, with Beckman accompanying the boy to each stoop. Some of the people in the neighborhood later remarked about how Beckman hovered a little too close to the door, how he seemed to be looking into the houses with a little too much interest as the little boy received his candy.
Over the next five months there were six burglaries in the neighborhood, all occurring during daylight hours when the residents were at work. Each time the same sort of items were stolen: cameras, jewelry, cash, MP3 players. Nothing too big to fit in a pillowcase.
A pair of astute divisional detectives noticed the pattern and created a photo lineup of people living in a one-mile radius of the break-ins who had a criminal history of burglaries. One of the people in that lineup was Kenneth Beckman.
After getting positive IDs of Beckman as someone who had come to neighborhood houses on Halloween, the detectives placed him under surveillance. Within a few days they followed him to a pawnshop in Chinatown, a known address for fencing stolen items. In forty-eight hours they set up a sting operation, with a detective posing as an employee of the shop. But Beckman, perhaps sensing a problem, never returned.
In mid-March 2002 they received a call from a young woman they had spoken to earlier, a woman named Antoinette Chan, the daughter of one of the burglary victims. She said she had gone down to her basement for the first time in a few weeks to do laundry and had seen a shoe print in the small lavatory off the furnace room. Whoever had broken into her house had come through the basement window. It appeared that the burglar had made a comfort stop. The original investigators had never looked in the lavatory.
The shoe print matched a size twelve Frye boot. Surveillance photos of Kenneth Beckman revealed him wearing the exact model.
Detectives visited Beckman's place of employment, only to discover that he had left.
When detectives arrived at the Beckman house on Lenox Avenue, search warrant in hand, they found a pair of PFD ladder trucks on the scene, and the block of row houses – four in all – ablaze. The old wooden structures burned to the ground in a matter of hours.
Across the street, sitting on a curb, smoking a cigarette, was Sharon Beckman. There was little doubt in anyone's mind about who had started the blaze, and no doubt at all why. Unfortunately for the investigators, there was no direct evidence. Sharon was not formally questioned or charged.
According to police, later that night Kenneth Beckman kidnapped Antoinette Chan, brought her to a location in South Philly and bludgeoned her to death. When Beckman was found in a motel in Allentown three days later and brought in for questioning, he dummied up and requested a lawyer.
Without any witnesses, and without any opportunity to search his house, all charges against Kenneth Arnold Beckman were dropped.
And now he was dead.
Jessica opened the folder with the crime-scene photos and felt her heart leap. 'Holy shit.'
'What?' Byrne asked.
Jessica put two of the Antoinette Chan crime-scene photos on the table, took out her iPhone, opened the photos folder, swiped over to her most recent photographs. She put the phone on the table, next to the printed pictures.
There was no mistake.
The man they had found dead that morning, Kenneth Arnold Beckman, the lead suspect in an eight-year-old murder case – that case being the bludgeoning to death of a young woman named Antoinette Chan – was posed inside a building on Federal, the same place where Antoinette Chan had been found.
Eight years before it became the Beckman crime scene it had been the Chan crime scene.
'The suspect in an unsolved homicide gets murdered himself and placed in the same location as his victim,' Jessica summed up.
'Yep,' Byrne said.
'As in exactly the same place. Posed in exactly the same position as the original victim.' She held up both the photograph and her cellphone. 'Kevin, these are absolutely identical crime-scene photos, only the second murder, our murder, was eight years later.'
'Eight and change, but yeah,' Byrne said. 'These are the facts as we know them.'
The two detectives looked at each other, knowing that this case had just crossed the line. It was now more than a vendetta murder, more than some act committed in the fiery grip of passion.
Jessica glanced again at the photographs. Some inner bell began to peal. In Philadelphia's history, any large city's history, there were many unsolved murders, victims of insanity and fury who for years went unavenged, evil echoing across time.
There was just such a legacy in the City of Brotherly Love, shame and guilt and madness that ran beneath the cobblestone streets like a blood river. Staring at photographs taken eight years apart, at the ragged flesh of two victims connected in a way neither she nor her partner yet understood, Detective Jessica Balzano wondered how much of this history they were about to see.
I float in darkness. i have always been nocturnal, eluding sleep, embraced by waking dreams.
Here the screams are scuttled and still. It is a place of repose and reflection, a place of wintry silence. For many years I have felt at home here.
I place the body on the ground. It is the third note. There are eight in this measure. Harmony and melody. I prop the leg against the low headstone. The music swells as I leap into the air, bringing down my full weight. The bone snaps. The sound echoes across the wet granite, the moonlit grass. I take the recorder in my hand, play back the sound. The cracking of bone is bright percussion.
I move among the dead, listening. The departed speak softly to me, etudes of grace and humility. Soon my movements become fluid, an exaltation of this moment, a dance of death. Le danse macabre. Around and around I twirl. I am free here.
Death at midnight plays a dance-tune,
Zig, zig, zag, on his violin.
I spin among the deceased, thinking about the next days, days leading up to All Hallow's Eve, when all the world's departed will rejoice.
Soon we will dance, the detective and I. We will dance, and in our embrace we will find that we are of the same heart, the same mind, two damaged souls sipping from a tarnished cup of blood.
Tuesday, October 26
Lucinda Doucette looked at the bathroom floor, thinking: I live in a world full of pigs.
Le Jardin, a modern 300-room hotel near Seventeenth and Sansom streets, in the heart of Center City, was a monolithic gray edifice with angular black wrought-iron railings around its seventy balconies, a model of European modernity at the corner of what was now being considered Philadelphia's new French Quarter. Managed by a Belgian multinational firm that also managed properties in Paris, Monaco and London, Le Jardin, which had been completely renovated in 2005, catered to the upscale business and leisure traveler, with its highly polished mahogany trim, its frosted French doors, its expensive French amenities.
In addition to the guest rooms there were six suites on the penultimate floor, all of them with views of the city, along with a presidential suite on the top floor that had breathtaking views of the Delaware River and beyond.
For Lucinda Doucette, along with everyone else who worked in hotel housekeeping, the views were less than scenic, although sometimes just as breathtaking in their own right.
Like all hotels, Le Jardin lived and died by its 'star' ratings – Orbitz, Hotels. com, Expedia, Hotwire, Priceline.
And while the management looked to online sites for input and feedback, there were only two accommodation ratings that really mattered: Mobil and AAA.
Mobil 'shopped' hotels every few years. The American Automobile Association, on the other hand, was far more exacting, some might say stingy, with their Diamond ratings, and thus were the most feared and respected of all the organizations on whose assessment of accommodations, dining, and travel the success of any hotel depended. Disappoint AAA, and the drop in business was palpable within months.
What it all boiled down to was comfort, staff, accommodation, and cleanliness.
Le Jardin was rightfully considered an upscale establishment, consistently rated at four stars, and this was something the management guarded fiercely.
Lucy Doucette had worked in housekeeping at Le Jardin for just over a year, starting a few days after her eighteenth birthday. When she first got on staff she found herself visiting the various travel websites with some regularity, checking the guest reviews, the user opinions, especially in the area of cleanliness. Granted, if she wasn't doing her job, she would certainly have heard about it from the director of housekeeping, a chilly, no-nonsense woman named Audrey Balcombe who, it was rumored, held a Master's Degree in communications from the Universite d'Avignon and had apprenticed as a hotelier with Kurt Wachtveitl, the legendary former general manager of the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok.
Still, Lucy took pride in what she did, and wanted to hear about it, good or bad, from the guests themselves. One review on tripadvisor. com had given Le Jardin a single star (there was no option for zero stars, or this guest reviewer certainly would have used it) in the area of cleanliness, going so far as to compare the hotel to a locker room at an inner-city YMCA. The reviewer complained specifically about entering the bathroom upon checking in, only to find the toilet unflushed. Lucy thought that the guy who'd written and uploaded the review, not the toilet, was the one full of shit – there was virtually no chance of this ever happening – but nonetheless, for the next two weeks, she worked doubly hard on her floor, the twelfth floor, checking and then rechecking the toilets before clearing the rooms for the arriving guests.
Most of the time her work ethic was its own reward – God knew the pay was not – but sometimes, not often, there were unexpected perks.
One guest, about five months earlier – an elderly, refined man – stayed for six days and when he checked out he left Lucy a onehundred-dollar tip beneath the pillow, along with a note that said To the girl with the haunted eyes: Good job.
Haunted eyes, Lucy thought at the time. She wore sunglasses to and from work for weeks afterward.
Right now Lucy wanted to choke the man staying in 1212. In addition to the spilled coffee on the chair, the stained pillowcases, the broken beer bottles in the tub, the overturned breakfast tray, the hair- clogged sink, and the shampoo and conditioner bottles which had somehow ended up under the bed along with two pairs of stained and streaked underwear, every towel was soaking wet and had been piled on the floor. And although she was used to this, this time it was particularly gross. In one of the towels was a copious amount of what looked like vomit.
Jesus, what a pig.
Time to move. Lucy had four more rooms to clean before her lunch break and less than two hours to do it. Management knew exactly when she clocked into a room. If she took longer than forty minutes, they noticed.
In a given day, each room attendant had fourteen rooms to clean. If you were fast – and Lucy, at nineteen, had energy to burn – you could buy 'credits,' or other rooms to clean. Lucy often did. She was good at her job. She did not engage the guests in a lot of small talk in the hallways, she was always courteous and polite, and with a little make-up she was not that hard to look at. With her cornflower-blue eyes, her butterscotch hair and slender figure, she never had a problem fitting into her uniform and more than once had caught the male guests following her movement down the long hallways at the hotel.
Although the work was not particularly demanding, it was mentally taxing. The difference between a three-and-a-half-star and a four-star hotel was often in the attitude and the details.
Some things were out of the control of the employees – the quality of the linens and towels, for instance, or whether or not to include mouthwash in the bathroom, or services like an evening turn-down – while other things were clearly in the purview of the 'ladies' in housekeeping.
Today there was a convention checking into the hotel, booked for three days. Something called Sociйtй Poursuite, a group of people, as Lucy understood it, who looked into unsolved murders as some sort of strange hobby. They had purchased a third of all the rooms, including the entire twelfth floor.
Using her finely tuned sense of logic, Lucy deduced that the word Sociйtй meant Society. She just hoped the other word didn't stand for Pig.
As she finished Room 1210, Lucy thought about her lunchtime appointment that day.
She had seen so many so-called professionals in the past nine years, so many people who thought they knew what was wrong with her. She had even taken part in a pilot program on regression therapy at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. Despite Lucy having no money to pay for the treatment, after three separate interviews they had agreed to take her. It hadn't gone well. For five straight days she'd sat in a group of eight people who'd pretty much talked about how, in previous lives, they were raped by Attila the Hun or played footsie with Marie Antoinette, or swapped spit with John the Baptist's severed head. Yuck. They had not really understood her problem. Lucy had yet to meet anyone who did.
She did meet some nice people there. The man who died and was brought back to life. The woman who was hit in the head and wandered around the city for three whole months, not knowing who she was.
Lucy had also been to a behavioral psychologist – exactly ten times. Her medical benefits at the hotel allowed her to see someone in the mental health field ten times in a calendar year, paying only her co- pay, which was twenty-five dollars. She could barely afford that.
Today, if she was lucky, all that was going to change. Today she was going to see the Dreamweaver.
She had found his card just sitting on her cart one day, probably tossed there by a passing guest. For some reason she had put it in her pocket and kept it. Just a week earlier she'd called the number out of the blue and had a brief conversation with the man, who had told her what he did.
He said he helped people explore their dreams. He claimed he could make her nightmares go away. She had made an appointment with him, an appointment for today at noon.
Lucy smoothed the top of the bedspread, scanned the room. Perfect. But while the room was finished, she was not.
She walked to the closet, stepped inside, and closed the door. She sat down, took the blindfold out of her pocket, wrapped it around her eyes, and tied it at the back of her head.
The darkness drew silently around her, and she welcomed it.
It had been this way for nine years, ever since the ground trembled beneath her feet, the devil had taken her hand, and three days of her life had been stolen.
While Lucy Doucette sat in the closet, the ghosts of her past swirling around her, a man entered the hotel lobby, twelve floors below.
As with many who were on their way to Le Jardin this day, his interests ran to the morbid, the darker sides of human nature, the bleak and terrifying landscapes of the sociopathic mind. His specific interests were the kidnapping and murder of young girls, the mindset of the pedophile.
He would be renting Room 1208. The room had a history, a sinister fable with which the man was intimate.
Room 1208 was, of course, on the twelfth floor.
Lucinda Doucette's floor.
At just after ten o'clock Jessica and Byrne got a call from the Medical Examiner's office. The Kenneth Beckman autopsy had been scheduled for nine o'clock that morning, but Tom Weyrich's message said there was something he wanted the detectives to see before the doctor started the cut.
On the way to the ME's office Jessica made a call to the Department of Human Services. She was told that Carlos had slept through the night – for the first time in two weeks – and was up and playing. Jessica hung up, revisited by the feeling of paralysis, the feeling that, if she didn't make a move on this, Carlos would slip into the system. She had wanted to discuss adoption with Vincent but with the upcoming move on top of them and all the stress involved with that, she had not seen an opening.
Maybe she would bring it up tonight, she thought. Maybe she would soften Vincent up with a night of inebriated, lamp-smashing sex.
The Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office was located on University Avenue. The purview of the office, among other things, was to investigate and determine the cause in all sudden, violent deaths in Philadelphia County, including homicides, suicides, accidents, and drug-related deaths.
In recent years, the MEO had investigated an average of six thousand cases of death annually, of which almost fifty percent required a post-mortem examination. Other functions of the MEO included positive identification, preparation of autopsy reports, and expert testimony in court, as well as grief assistance for family members.
While Jessica and Byrne waited in the intake room next to the autopsy theaters, they were serenaded by the constant zap of insects, courtesy of the large rectangular blue bug light on the wall. The continuous drone of bugs, mostly blowflies, being flash-fried was maddening.
Jessica checked the schedule on the wall. It included the autopsies performed the previous week. Tom Weyrich approached them.
'I don't get it, Tom,' Jessica said. 'There're twelve autopsies and only eleven names.'
'You don't want to know,' Weyrich said.
'See, now I have to know,' Jessica said. 'It's my naturally curious nature.'
Weyrich ran his hand over his chin. Jessica noticed that he had cut himself no fewer than four times while shaving that morning. 'You sure?'
'Okay, last week we get a call from Penn. It seems someone threw an internal organ onto the front steps of Tanenbaum Hall.'
The Nicole E. Tanenbaum Hall was on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania and contained, among other things, the Biddle Law Library.
'Somebody threw body parts?'
Weyrich nodded. 'What a world, huh?'
'What a city.''
'We still had to treat it like normal John Doe remains. We ran all our standard pathology tests, did a standard cut.'
'I still don't understand why there's no name on the sheet. Is it because you haven't been able to make an ID on the remains?' Jessica asked.
'Yes and no.'
'It was a cow stomach.'
Jessica looked at Byrne. Byrne smiled, shook his head.
'One question,' Jessica said.
'Is it still a John Doe, or is it now an Elsie Doe?'
'Laugh it up,' Weyrich said. 'This job put both my kids through Villanova.'
Jessica lifted both hands in surrender.
'I have something to show you,' Weyrich said.
He wheeled a body into the center of the intake room.
The body of Kenneth Arnold Beckman rested on the gleaming stainless steel table, face up, covered to just below the chest with a sheet.
Weyrich directed the overhead light to the victim's right hand. He slipped on a glove, gently pried back the fingers.
'I wanted you to see this,' he said.
There, on the pad of the right index finger, was a small drawing, measuring approximately half an inch by one inch.
'What is that?' Jessica asked.
'It's a tattoo, believe it or not.'
'On his finger?'
'On his finger,' Weyrich said. 'When they cleaned him up to print him they found it.'
Jessica berated herself for not seeing it at the scene. She put on her glasses, looked closely. It looked like a highly stylized drawing of a lion. The colors were bright and primary, the outlines thick, the overall effect not unlike that of an illustration in a child's coloring book.
'I've read this guy's sheet,' Jessica said. 'He didn't strike me as the cartoon type.'
'It takes all types,' Weyrich said. 'I've taken a sample and sent it to the lab. They should be able to tell us the type of ink fairly soon.'
'You took a sample?' Jessica asked. 'A skin sample?'
'This is not a regular tattoo. It's a temporary tattoo.'
Jessica looked again. At this distance, and with skin art this size, she really couldn't tell the difference.
Weyrich handed her a large magnifying glass. Jessica looked again at the image of the lion. The ink, and its rich color, stood in bright contrast to the blood-leached pallor of the dead man's skin.
'It's not still wet, is it?'
'No,' Weyrich said. 'But it is new. I'd say it's been there less than seventy-two hours.'
When Jessica had been small, she used to go to a variety store in South Philly and buy little tattoos that she could apply simply by getting wet and pressing them on her skin. They usually washed off with one or two runs through the sprinkler, or a single dip in a pool.
'Does he have any other tattoos?'
'Surprisingly, no,' Weyrich said.
'Why do you think this is relevant?'
Weyrich directed Jessica to look with the magnifying glass at an area on the victim's left shoulder. Jessica repositioned the glass and saw a slight smudge there, a smear no more than a quarter-inch square or so in size. It was the same color as the yellow in the lion tattoo.
'I think this was done at the same time,' Weyrich said. 'I think the doer may have applied the tattoo, then made this smudge when he turned the body over.'
Jessica looked closely There were no ridge marks. It was not a fingerprint, indicating that the killer might have worn gloves.
'Which brings us to the two other pieces of artwork on the body,' Weyrich said. He pulled down the sheet to reveal a section just above the rib cage on the right side. There were the two unmistakable marks left by a Taser, deep purple bruises looking like a vampire's bite.
'He was Tasered,' Jessica said.
Weyrich nodded. Jessica calculated the planning involved in this homicide. The cutting of the man's forehead, the measured puncture wound, the shaving of the entire body. It removed the crime from any heat of passion, certainly. This was cold, deliberate, calculated.
'What about the shaving?' Jessica asked.
'I think it was done pre-mortem, without benefit of any emollient or shaving cream.' Weyrich pointed to a few areas where the skin was deeply abraded. 'I believe it was done quickly with a hair trimmer, as opposed to a rotary-style shaver, which means he had to press a little harder. Still, he didn't get it all.'
Jessica made notes. Byrne just listened. This was their usual routine at the ME's office.
Weyrich then moved the glass to the victim's forehead. He pointed to the lateral laceration at the top. In the brutal light it looked like a mortal wound, as though the killer had been attempting to take off the top of Kenneth Beckman's head.
'This was done with a straight razor or a scalpel,' he said. 'Our guy took care not to cut too deeply. There is some level of skill here. The cut on the right ear was not nearly so clean.'
Jessica looked at the victim's ear. It had congealed into a scabrous brown mass. 'Can we tell if the cutter is right-handed or left-handed?' she asked.
'Not from this wound, I'm afraid. If he is right-handed, he would most likely start at the left side and draw right. That would be the most natural movement. But only if he was straddling the body.' Weyrich leaned over the cadaver and mimicked the motion of drawing a blade over the victim's forehead from left to right. 'Now, if he was up here…' Weyrich moved to the head of the table, putting the top of the victim's head near his waist. 'He could achieve the same result as a left-hander, drawing the blade right to left.'
'And this was done while the victim was still alive?' Byrne said.
'How did he keep him still?'
'As well you might ask.' Weyrich pointed out four areas where there were small plum-colored bruises. On either side of the forehead, just above the temple, were contact marks in a circular shape, about a half-inch in diameter. There were also marks on either side of the lower jaw. 'His head was held in place at these four points.'
'With some kind of vice grip?' Byrne asked.
'A little more finesse than that, I believe. And a lot more expensive. I think it may have been a device similar to a surgical clamp. Whenever there is any cranial surgery performed, it is imperative, of course, that the patient be immobilized. Fortunately, we do not have that problem in this office. Our patients tend not to fidget much.'
'Do you think our boy has some medical training?'
Jessica studied the bruises, thought about the horror of having one's head locked into a device. 'Where do you get an item like that?'
'It's pretty specialized. And expensive. I'll get you a list of medical suppliers.'
Jessica made a note to follow up.
'One other thing,' Weyrich said. He pointed at the puncture wound in the forehead. He handed back the magnifying glass to Jessica. She looked at the wound. 'What am I looking for?'
'See the area right around the puncture? The coloration?'
Under magnification the puncture did not look like such a clean wound, but rather twisted, shredded tissue, exploding outward like a tiny lava eruption. Jessica saw a small ring around the puncture that appeared to be red. An unnaturally bright shade of red. 'This is not dried blood, I take it.'
'No,' Weyrich said. 'That would be much darker. This was made with a Magic Marker of some sort. Maybe a felt-tip marker.'
Jessica looked up at Byrne, then back. 'A Magic Marker?'
'You're saying the killer marked the spot first?'
Weyrich nodded, politely smug in his findings. 'I've seen stranger things.'
'Why would he do something like that?'
Weyrich took the magnifying glass back, pulled the sheet over the body. 'That's above my pay grade, detective,' he said. 'You are the chef de partie here. I'm only the commis.'
When they stepped out of the MEO, David Albrecht was waiting for them. For any number of reasons he had not been allowed inside the morgue.
'What did I miss?' Albrecht asked.
'Bunch of dead people,' Byrne said. 'I yelled "action," but nobody moved.'
David Albrecht soon dialed into the fact that he wasn't going to get anything out of Kevin Byrne on this matter. He turned to Jessica.
'Where to?' he asked.
'We're going to grab some coffee,' Jessica said. 'You're welcome to join us.'
'You can get some shots of us looking at a menu, putting cream in coffee, fighting over the check,' Byrne said.
Albrecht laughed. 'Okay, okay. I'll just ramp up the suspense in post.'
Byrne smiled, winked at Jessica. It wasn't a thaw, but it was a start. Jessica knew that Byrne was not particularly keen on being followed around with a camera. Neither was she.
Albrecht left his van at the ME's office and traveled with the detectives. They drove down University Avenue.
'So, are you getting what you want?' Jessica asked.
'Pretty much,' Albrecht said. 'I was at the district attorney's office earlier this morning. I'm running two story lines at the same time. I'm shooting two of the DAs at work as well. I don't think it's ever been done before.'
'You mean following both police detectives and district attorneys?' Byrne asked.
'You mean like every episode of Law and Order?'
Albrecht went quiet.
'I'm sure you'll put your own stamp on it,' Jessica said, shooting Byrne a look.
They stopped at a coffee shop on Spruce Street. Albrecht, sitting two booths away, really did get footage of them looking at menus. On the second cup, he put down the camera and pulled up a chair to the booth.
'So we're not your only stars?' Byrne asked.
'No,' Albrecht said, smiling. 'I am painting a vast and varied canvas.'
'I've been meaning to ask you,' Byrne said. 'Did you shoot any footage of the crowd at the Federal Street scene?'
'Yeah,' Albrecht said. 'It came out good.'
'We'd like to take a look at it, if you don't mind. Maybe our bad guy showed up to gloat.'
'Right, right,' Albrecht said, nodding. 'I'll get that on a disk right away.'
'We'd appreciate it.'
The waitress came over with three cups of espresso. They weren't for the table. They were all for Albrecht. Jessica and Byrne exchanged a glance.
Albrecht saw the look, shrugged. 'Well, you know the old saying. Sleep is a symptom of caffeine deprivation.' He knocked back one of the small cups in a single gulp.
Byrne tapped the DV camera on the seat next to him. 'So tell me, how did you get into this?'
Albrecht stirred sugar into his second cup of espresso. 'Well, it was probably my dad. He used to take me to the movies a lot when I was a kid. He was big in the arts, you know. For some reason I gravitated to documentaries at a young age.'
'Do you remember the film you liked the most?'
'I think the movie that did it for me was called In the Shadow of the Stars.' He looked between Jessica and Byrne. 'Did either of you ever see it?'
Jessica had not. She told him so.
'That was the documentary on the choristers in the opera?' Byrne asked.
'Yes!' Albrecht said. He looked around. 'Sorry. That was loud, wasn't it?'
Byrne smiled. 'Not in this place.'
'Well, when I saw that – at the ripe old age of seven – I saw the possibilities of making movies about regular people. Nothing bores me more than celebrity. I never watch television.'
'That movie seems a little highbrow for a kid,' Byrne said.
Albrecht downed a second espresso, nodded. 'Like I said, my dad was big into the arts. I think we saw that film at a fundraiser. I was never the same afterwards. I was especially impressed with the music. The possibilities of sound editing in particular.'
Jessica suddenly made the connection. 'Wait a minute. Your father was Jonas Albrecht?'
For more than twenty-five years Jonas Albrecht had been a force of nature in Philadelphia arts, business, and politics – one of the directors of the prestigious Pennsylvania Society. He was a wealthy man, having made his fortune in real estate. He founded a number of organizations, and was deeply involved with the Philadelphia Orchestra until he was tragically killed in a violent carjacking in 2003. Jessica had been on the force at the time, but it was before she had joined the homicide unit. She wasn't sure if the case had ever been closed.
'It was a terrible tragedy,' Byrne said. 'We're sorry for your loss.'
Albrecht nodded. 'Thank you.'
We are the sum of our experiences, Jessica thought. David Albrecht might not be doing what he was doing now if it had not been for the terrible tragedy that had befallen his father. It had taken Jessica a long time to realize that, if it were not for her own life's tragedies, among which was her brother Michael's death in Kuwait in 1991, her life might have taken another path. She had been headed to law school until that fateful day. It was Michael who had been going to follow in their father's footsteps and join the force. Life takes its turns.
While Byrne and David Albrecht talked documentary film – not one of Jessica's strong suits, she'd been halfway through This is Spinal Tap before she'd realized it was a spoof – she got on her iPhone, did a search for tattoo parlors in Philadelphia. She called a few of them and was told that they did not handle things like temporary tattoos. The last place she called, an emporium on South Street, mentioned a parlor that had recently opened on Chestnut, a place called Ephemera. The girl said they did temporary tattooing and had a good reputation.
Ephemera was on the second floor of a row house converted into retail space. The first floor was a retail shop selling Asian specialty foods.
While David Albrecht shot some exteriors of the building, Jessica and Byrne climbed the narrow stairwell, opened the frosted-glass door.
The front parlor was lit with dozens of candles. The walls were covered in tapestries of magenta and gold. There was no furniture, no stools, just pillows. It smelled of rich incense. There were no customers in the waiting area.
A few moments later a woman walked through the curtains and greeted them. She was Indian, elfin and delicate, about forty. She wore a turquoise silk kurti and black slacks. 'My name is Dalaja,' she said. 'How may I help you?'
Jessica took out her ID, showed it to the woman. She then introduced herself and Byrne.
'Is there something wrong?' Dalaja asked.
'No,' Jessica said. 'We just have a couple of questions, if you have a few moments.'
'Yes, of course.'
Dalaja gestured to the large pillows in front of the window overlooking Chestnut Street. Jessica and Byrne sat down. Well, sat was a loose term for Byrne's action. For a man his size, the best Byrne could do was aim himself at the pillow, then fall onto it.
'Would you like some tea?' the woman asked when they were settled.
'I'm fine, thanks,' Jessica said.
'Would a cup of Masala chai be too much trouble?' Byrne asked.
The woman smiled. 'Not at all. But it will take a few minutes.'
Dalaja disappeared into the back room.
'Masala chai?' Jessica asked softly.
'What about it?'
'Do you have some sort of secret life I don't know about?'
'Well, if I told you it wouldn't be secret, would it?'
Jessica looked around the room. There were glass shelves on the far wall, each featuring a stack of brightly hued clothing. Another glass rack held carved artifacts and jewelry. The sound of modern Indian music floated softly from behind the curtain.
The woman soon emerged from the back room, sat on a large pillow opposite them. She was so light that she barely made an impression on the pillow. It was as if she floated above it. 'The tea will be ready shortly.'
'Thanks,' Byrne said.
'First, if you don't mind, can you tell me what you do here?' Jessica asked.
'This is a Mehndi parlor.'
'Could you spell that for me?' Jessica asked.
Dalaja did, giving her a few alternate spellings. Jessica wrote it all down. 'I'm not sure I know what that means.'
'Mehndi is a type of skin decoration practiced throughout South Asia, Southeast Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa.'
'These are temporary tattoos?'
'Technically no. Tattoos, by definition, are permanent, applied under the skin. Mehndi is temporary, and rests atop the skin.'
'What is it made out of?'
'Mehndi is applied with henna. It is mostly drawn on the palms of the hands and the feet, where the levels of keratin in the skin are highest.'
'And how long does it last?'
'Anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on the henna paste and where the decoration is placed on the body.'
A young Indian woman came out of the back with a cup of tea on an ornate black lacquered tray. She was about nineteen, and wore traditional South Asian clothing. She was stunningly beautiful. Jessica went back to her notes, but, after a few seconds, noticed that the girl was still standing in front of them. Jesssica glanced at Byrne. He was looking at the girl with his mouth open, not moving, not speaking. She was that beautiful.
'Right,' he said finally, closing his mouth and taking the cup and saucer. 'Thank you.'
The girl smiled and, without a word, withdrew to the back room.
When she was gone, their hostess reached onto a nearby table and picked up a beautifully bound leather notebook. She handed the book to Jessica, who riffled the pages. The designs were intricate and skillfully drawn. Page after page of complex artwork in a rainbow of colors, drawn mostly on hands and feet.
'I'm afraid what we're inquiring about is a little different,' Jessica said. 'A little less… ornate.'
Jessica then caught the aroma of the tea – ginger and honey – and wished she had taken the woman up on her offer.
'May I show you a photograph?' Jessica asked.
'By all means.'
Jessica pulled out her iPhone, enlarged the photograph of the lion tattoo on Kenneth Beckman's finger.
'Oh, I see,' the woman said. 'This is different.'
'Do you know what it is?'
Dalaja nodded. 'This is very small, is it not?'
'Yes,' Jessica said. 'Maybe one inch long.'
'It appears to be a style of temporary body art called a transfer. Relatively inexpensive. And the quality, well…'
It was true. By comparison with the photographs in the leather-bound notebook the lion tattoo looked like it had been drawn with a crayon.
'I take it you do not offer this service or sell items like this,' Jessica said.
'We do not. But I believe I can point you in the right direction.'
'That would be great.'
'If you will excuse me for a moment.'
The woman rose, seemingly without effort. She stepped into the back room. She returned a few minutes later with pages from a color printer.
'I believe this is what you are looking for.'
She handed a page to Jessica. On it was an exact replica of the lion transfer tattoo.
'Wow,' Jessica said. 'That's it.'
Dalaja handed her a second sheet. 'At the top is the website from which I downloaded the image. There are ten others here on the page, but the first company, called World Ink, is the largest. I did not find that exact image on any of the others, but that is not to say it is not sold elsewhere.'
Jessica and Byrne got to their feet.
'The chai was delicious,' Byrne said. 'Thanks very much.'
'You are most welcome,' the woman replied. 'Is there anything else I can do for you?'
'I believe that is it for now,' Jessica said.
'Then, for now, alvida.' She spun on her heels and walked toward the back room without making a sound.
Back at the Roundhouse, Jessica got on the Internet and visited World Ink. In addition to transfer tattoos, the company sold a lot of specialty items, such as pocket calendars, paint sheets, and customized scratch-and-win cards.
But it was the stock tattoos in which Jessica was interested. And they had hundreds, maybe thousands of designs. Angels, cars, flags, flowers, sports, holiday-themed, myth and fairy-tale, as well as religious and tribal symbols.
Six pages deep into the online catalog she found the lion design. It was in a collection called TinyToos, and was a perfect match. She took out her cellphone, clicked over to the photograph of Kenneth Beckman's body. There could be no doubt. Unless the victim had put this tattoo on himself – and Jessica had a problem seeing Beckman doing this, it seemed inconsistent with his personality – someone had done it for him. Quite possibly the person who'd strangled and mutilated him.
Byrne already had three calls in to Sharon Beckman to ask if her husband had a tattoo on his finger.
Jessica got on the phone to World Ink, and after a few minutes of press one, press five, press two, she pressed 0 until a human being picked up the phone. She identified herself and in short order was passed over to the website-catalog sales manager.
Jessica explained the bare minimum. After a little hemming and hawing, the man told her that they would be happy to help, but he was going to have to get clearance and they would need some kind of request on paper. Jessica asked the man if a fax on a PPD letterhead would suffice, and he said it would. Jessica scratched a few more notes, hung up the phone. She caught Byrne's attention, gave him the highlights. She held up the photo of the lion tattoo.
'This design is exclusive to this company,' she said. 'It's an original design. That's not to say that our guy bought it from them, or didn't duplicate it himself – the guy at World Ink said it was fairly easy to do with a scanner, PhotoShop, and the right supplies – but considering the way these tattoos are applied, I think it's a safe bet that Kenneth Beckman did not apply the tattoo himself. Even if it has nothing to do with the case, we can be pretty sure someone did it for him.'
'Like, for instance, our bad boy.'
'Could be. Now, if it was him, he might have placed an order online with this company. I'm going to fax them a request for a customer list, people who purchased this tattoo.'
'Do you think we'll need the DAs office on this?' Byrne asked.
'Let me call Mike Drummond and give him a heads-up.'
While Byrne made the call, Jessica printed off the tattoo of the lion. She heard laughter coming down the hall. She looked up to see Nicci Malone – a love-struck, schoolgirl-in-distress Nicci Malone – enter the duty room with Detective Russell Diaz.
Russell Diaz was the head of a newly formed tactical squad, part of the PPD's Special Investigations Unit, a job originally offered to Kevin Byrne, who had turned it down. The tactical unit was a sort of rapid-response team for high-profile cases involving special circumstances. Diaz had spent ten years with the FBI's Philadelphia field office, but had been traveling too much, he said, and joined the PPD to stay closer to his family. While in the FBI he had worked with Behavioral Science and had consulted with the homicide unit a number of times in the past few years.
Beyond that, Russell Diaz was a specimen. About six feet tall, cut from stone, close-cropped brunette hair, dreamy eyes. He was given to wearing those tight navy blue PPD T-shirts that showed off his biceps. Oddly enough, he seemed not to notice his impact on members of both the same and opposite sexes, along with everything in between. This made him even more appealing.
Tomorrow was his first tour in the new unit.
Diaz noticed Jessica, crossed the room, smiled. 'Hello, detective. Been a while.'
'Too long,' Jessica said. They shook hands. Jessica had worked with Diaz on a joint task force when she'd been in the auto-theft unit.
They had taken down an international ring, a gang shipping high-end cars to South America. 'Glad to have you on the team. How is Marta?'
Marta was Diaz's daughter. To Jessica's understanding she was some sort of musical prodigy. The fact that Diaz, long divorced, was raising her alone vaulted him from appealing to unbelievably adorable.
'She's great, thanks. Fourteen going on thirty.'
Jessica glanced down at the stack of papers and books in Diaz's grasp.
'What is this?' Jessica pointed at the book. Diaz handed it to her. It was a copy of Dante's Inferno.
'Just a little light reading,' Diaz said, with a smile.
Jessica thumbed through the book. It was anything but light reading. 'You read Italian?'
'Working on it. Marta is going to do her sophomore year in Italy, and I want to be able to sound hip to her friends.'
'Che c'и di nuovo?' Diaz asked.
Jessica smiled. 'Non molto.'
As far as she could tell, Diaz had asked her what was new and she'd told him 'not much.' Outside of swear words, that was about the extent of Jessica's Italian.
Byrne walked into the duty room. Jessica gestured him over. She introduced the two men.
'Kevin Byrne, Russell Diaz,' she said.
'Good to meet you,' Diaz said. 'I've heard a lot about you.'
They batted shoptalk around for a while until Diaz glanced at his watch. 'I'm due back at Arch Street to wrap a few things.' The Philadelphia FBI field office was at 6000 Arch. Diaz gathered his things, including the copy of Dante's Inferno. He put it all in his duffel, slung it over his broad shoulder. 'Drinks later?'
Standing behind Diaz, Nicci Malone nodded like a bobble-head doll.
Jessica and Byrne spent the next hour typing up the witness statements collected from the Federal Street scene, which amounted to little more than I don't know anything, I didn't hear anything, I didn't see anything.
'I think you should stay on that tattoo company,' Byrne said. 'I'll see if I can red-light the lab on the brand of paper used to gift-wrap Beckman's head.'
'Sounds like a plan,' Jessica said.
In the background the duty-room phone rang. Out of habit, Jessica and Byrne both looked at the assignment desk, which was positioned more or less in the middle of the cluttered room. Nick Palladino was up on the wheel. They saw him reach into the desk for a notification form, which could only mean one thing.
The homicide unit was contacted every time there was a suspicious death. Some turned out to be accidents, some turned out to be suicides. But every time a non-hospital, non-hospice death occurred, anywhere in the county of Philadelphia, only one phone rang.
Jessica and Byrne turned their attention back to the case, to each other. Or tried to.
A few minutes later, out of the corner of her eye, Jessica noticed someone crossing the duty room. It was Nick Palladino. He was heading straight for Jessica and Byrne, a dour look on his face. For the most part, Dino was a pretty affable guy, even-tempered, at least for a South Philly Italian. Except when he was on a job. Then he was all business.
This was one of those times.
'Please don't tell me we have another body on this case,' Jessica said. 'We don't have another body on this case, do we, Dino?'
'No,' Nick Palladino said, slipping on his coat. 'We don't.' He grabbed a set of keys off the rack, along with a two-way handset. 'We have two.'
Lucy Doucette made the six blocks in just under four minutes. It might have been a record. On the way she outpaced two SEPTA buses and just barely dodged an SUV that ran the light on Eighteenth Street. She'd been dodging traffic since she was three. It didn't slow her down a bit.
The address was a three-story brick building off Cherry Street. A small plaque next to the door identified it as Tillman Towers. It was hardly a tower. A rusted air conditioner hung precariously overhead; the steps leading up to the door looked to be leaning at a ten-degree angle to the right. She looked at the bottom of the plaque. It said entrance to 106 around back. She walked down an alley, turned the corner and saw a small door, painted red. On it was a symbol that matched the symbol on the card, a highly stylized golden key.
She looked for a buzzer or doorbell and, seeing none, pushed on the door. It opened. Ahead was a long dimly lit hallway.
Lucy started down the corridor, surrounded by the smells of old buildings – bacon fat, wet dog, fruity room deodorizers, with top notes of soiled diaper. She had long ago developed a keen sense of smell – it was something that really helped in her business: sometimes some really funky things lurked in the craziest places in hotel rooms, and being able to root them out and dispose of them, by any means necessary, was a real plus.
When she got to number 106 at the end of the hallway the door was slightly ajar. She knocked on the door jamb and, out of longingrained habit, almost called out 'Housekeeping.' She stopped herself at the last second.
She knocked again. 'Hello?'
She took a deep breath and stepped into the room.
The space was small and cramped, with stacks of old leather-bound books in the corners reaching nearly to the ceiling. In the center were two upholstered chairs of differing style and vintage. In here she tasted long-boiled coffee on the back of her tongue.
'Hello.' The voice came from behind her.
Lucy spun around, her heart leaping. Behind her stood a compact man somewhere in his forties or fifties. He was of average height, but lean and wiry. His white shirt, which had yellowed around the collar and cuffs, appeared to be a few sizes too large. His navy blue suit coat was shiny and worn, his shoes dusty. But what struck Lucy most were his eyes. He had the dark, shiny eyes of a fierce terrier.
'Hello,' she replied, the word coming out squeaky. She hated it when her voice did this. 'I'm Lucy Doucette.'
In contrast to her own, his voice was soft and assured. Lucy had the feeling that he had never shouted in his life.
He took her hand in his but didn't shake it, not like an ordinary handshake. Instead, he just held it for a moment, not taking his eyes from hers. For a moment the rest of the room dissolved away, like something glimpsed through a shower curtain. His lack of physical size belied this powerful touch.
He let go of her hand, eased his own hands back down to his sides.
'What should I call you?' Lucy asked as everything now shimmered back into focus.
The man smiled a thin smile, a light that didn't fully reach his eyes. 'My name is Adrian Costa,' he said. 'You may call me Adrian or Mr. Costa, whichever makes you more comfortable.'
He gestured to the large upholstered avocado chair. Lucy saw the dust on the arms. She wanted to vacuum it.
'I'm of a mind to call you Mr. Costa for now,' she said. 'If that's okay.'
'As you wish.'
Lucy sat down. The chair was a lot more comfortable than it looked. It looked a little spring-busted, if the truth were to be told. Lucy had grown up with third-hand furniture, living in drafty rental houses and second-floor apartments situated above everything from bowling alleys to taverns to Chinese restaurants, places where none of the furniture matched, where nothing ever sat level on the floor. Lucy never knew whether it was the floors that were out of whack or that the tables and chairs were short-legged, but she recalled always having to put a matchbook or two under the table legs so her pencils didn't roll off when she was doing her homework. She also remembered many nights when she and her mother would walk the streets of her hometown on the night before trash day, looking for usable items with which her mother could furnish their house, or try to turn around and sell or trade for drugs. They used to call it shopping at Lawn Mart.
'What do you know about hypnotism?' Mr. Costa asked.
Lucy didn't have to think too long about this one. She didn't know much, just the things she'd seen in spooky movies, or the comedies where people got hypnotized and walked around like chickens. Lucy truly hoped she wasn't going to walk around like a chicken. She told Mr. Costa just that.
'Don't worry,' Mr. Costa said. He steepled his fingers. Lucy noticed that there were indentations on six of his fingers, as though he had recently taken off six rings. 'What I do is give you the skills you need to achieve your goal,' he added. 'Do you have a goal, Lucy Doucette? A purpose in coming to see me?'
If you only knew, mister. She tried to answer with a calm, measured response. 'Oh yes.'
'Good. Here we focus on subconscious behaviors and see how they influence your conscious life. The methods I use are tried and true. They go back to Victorian times.'
'So, the acting-like-a-chicken business is definitely out?'
Mr. Costa nodded. 'The stage hypnotist wants to give the impression that the subject is out of control,' he said. 'What I do is just the opposite. I want to give you back control. Control of your life. The way I do that is to help you to relax as deeply as possible so you can enter a suggestible state, a state where your memories – things you may have forgotten – can be recalled with ease, and therefore be understood and dealt with.'
'Okay,' Lucy said. She hoped she sounded more confident than she felt. 'But there is something I need to know before we go any further. If that's okay.'
'How much is all this going to cost?'
There. She'd just blurted it out. By the time she was five or six years old she had already learned to shop at the grocery store and drug store, to talk to the people from the phone and electric companies, usually wielding her little-girl charms to forestall a shut-off of services.
Mr. Costa smiled his nick of a smile again. 'You won't owe me anything for now. Let's see where the road takes us. Then we'll talk about the toll.'
Lucy was more than a little surprised. 'Well, Mr. Costa, I appreciate this, I truly do. But I'm a girl who doesn't like surprises. Never have. I'd hate to get to the end of all this and find that I owe you thousands and thousands of dollars or something. It wouldn't be fair to either of us. I couldn't pay you and you'd be really mad.'
Another pause. 'Firstly, I never get angry. I've never found it to be productive. Have you?'
The truth was, she never had found it to be productive. Of course, that had never stopped her. 'No. I suppose not.'
'Secondly, when we have completed our third and last session, if you find then that you are satisfied with my services, that you have received true value, I want you to pay me whatever you feel is right.' He gestured to the room around them. 'As you can see, I live a modest existence.'
Lucy looked closely at the walls for the first time, at the cobwebs near the ceiling, at the thin layer of dust everywhere, at the crosshatched lines in the plaster. Once again, her desire to start cleaning was nearly physical. Then she looked closely at the photographs mounted haphazardly on the walls, dozens and dozens of them, many in chipped enamel frames, some staggered behind cracked and spider-webbed glass. They all seemed to be snapshots of similar subjects – travel-type pictures of pavilions and gazebos and gingerbread exhibition halls, places that appeared to be small-town centers, ringed by vendors with brightly colored carts, public benches sporting ads for local concerns. One frame featured a band shell in the shape of a large pumpkin. Another showed what might have been a Civil War re-enactment in progress. A number of the photographs were pictures of a younger Mr. Costa, holding a violin.
'Have you been to all these places?' Lucy asked.
'I have indeed.'
Mr. Costa crossed the room to the far wall, the wall opposite the window. There was a velvet curtain there that took up most of the width of the room. He reached behind the right side of the curtain, took hold of a frayed golden rope and pulled it gently.
Behind the curtain was a large booth, perhaps six feet wide and just as tall. It had no window, like a typical booth you might see at a carnival or in front of a theater, but rather a single door crudely cut into the front, a door with a red crystal doorknob. Above the door was a carved scroll, painted to resemble a dark purple sky with billowy clouds. Peering out from behind one of the clouds was a silvery autumn moon, with just the hint of glitter. Down each side of the booth, next to the doorway, were the words The Dreamweaver. Across the door, over what looked to be a round portal which showed only darkness, was another legend, this one in a gilded script:
What do you dream?
'That's pretty cool,' Lucy said. And it was true. Lucy Doucette was a small-town girl, one who'd grown up terribly poor. Her entertainment, when her mother was sober enough to take her places, and many times when she was not, had been small-town entertainment – county fairs, local home days, carnivals, parades, festivals, sometimes even wakes if they were held in the park. If there was no cover charge, and it was bright, loud, and festive, Lucy's mother would park her daughter on a bench, returning every so often a little drunker, or a little more stoned, with a corn dog, elephant ear, or funnel cake in her hand. Many times these treats were cold, half-eaten, and it wasn't until years later that Lucy figured out that these were probably items of discarded food. Somehow that knowledge did not make them taste bad, even in retrospect. When you're four years old, cotton candy, even someone else's cotton candy, was the best thing in the world.
Mr. Costa closed the curtain, crossed the room, sat down across from Lucy. 'Shall we begin?'
'Sure,' Lucy said. She took a deep breath, tried to relax her shoulders. It wasn't easy. There was a tension that had settled upon her when she was small and, although there were days when she felt it was easing, it had never gone away completely. She looked up at the Dreamweaver, at his bright little-dog eyes. 'Let's begin.'
'Today, in our first session, we are going to go back to a specific time in your life. The time you can't seem to remember. Okay?'
Lucy felt her hands begin to shake. She knit them together in her lap. 'Okay.'
'But you are not going to re-experience this event. There is no need to be concerned with that. Instead, it will be more like you are observing it.'
'Observing? Like, watching it?'
'Yes,' Mr. Costa said. 'Exactly. Like watching it from above.'
'Like I'm flying?'
'Like you're flying.'
'Very cool,' she said. 'What do I do?'
'You needn't do anything except close your eyes and listen to the sound of my voice.'
'You know, I have to tell you something,' Lucy began. 'In fact, I was going to tell you this when I first walked in.'
'What is that?'
'I don't really think I'm the kind of person who can be hypnotized.'
'Why do you say that?'
Lucy shrugged. 'I don't know. I think I'm too intense, you know? I hardly ever sleep, I'm always nervous. Do other people ever say that?'
'I'm sure that there are some people who just can't seem to-'
Mr. Costa held up a finger, stopping her. The finger had a ring on it. In fact, all of his rings seemed to be back. All six of them.
When had he done that?
'I hate to interrupt you, but I'm afraid our session is complete for today.'
Lucy wasn't sure she understood. 'What are you saying? Are you saying-'
Lucy took a few moments, letting the news sink in. She had actually been hypnotized for a while.
She stood up, grabbed her purse, walked toward the door, feeling a little dizzy. She held onto the doorjamb to steady herself. Suddenly Mr. Costa was next to her again. He was light on his feet.
'Are you all right?' he asked.
'Yes,' Lucy said. 'Kinda.'
Mr. Costa nodded. 'Shall we say tomorrow, then? Just at midday?'
'Sure,' Lucy said, suddenly realizing she felt pretty good after all. As in really good. Like she'd taken a brief nap.
'I believe you made some progress today,' Mr. Costa said.
'Yes,' he replied. He took off his bifocals, slipped them into an inside pocket of his suit coat. 'I don't believe it was anything like a breakthrough – that may never happen, I'm afraid – but you may have opened a door. Just the slightest bit.'
Pipe smoke and apples.
'A door?' Lucy asked.
'A door to your subconscious. A portal to what happened to you nine years ago.'
Had she told him it was nine years? She didn't remember doing that.
Mr. Costa put his hand on the doorknob. 'One last thing for today,' he said. 'Does the hotel in which you work have notepads in the rooms?'
'Notepads with the hotel logo. For the guests.'
'Yes,' Lucy said. She'd only placed a million of these pads – two inches from the left edge of the desk, pen at a forty-five-degree angle across the center.
'Excellent. Please bring one of these pads with you next time,' Mr. Costa said. 'Can you do that?'
'Sure,' Lucy said. 'I'll bring one.'
Mr. Costa opened the door. 'Until tomorrow, my dear Lucinda.'
On the way through the door Lucy glanced at the small picture on the wall next to the casing, just above the grimy light switch. She only saw it for a fleeting moment but that was long enough to see that it was a photograph of another gazebo, this one a rather dilapidated pergola overgrown with ivy. It was only after she'd stepped through the doorway and the door had closed behind her that she realized she knew the house in the background of that photograph, the wreck of a bungalow with its slanted porch and rusted gutters and broken brick walk.
It was the house she had grown up in.
It is said of Mozart that he could never sit still for his barber running instead to his clavier every time he had an idea, forcing the man tasked with tonsorial duties to chase after him, ribbons in hand.
I understand. Sometimes, when the music of the dead is loud, I cannot sit still, I must go out and begin the hunt anew.
For now I watch and wait, idling, my killing instruments at the ready.
I survey the ground before me. The cemetery looks so different in the daytime. No glowering ghouls, no hovering apparitions. Just the dead. Just a chorus of plaintive voices asking for justice, for answers, for truth.
I watch the people scramble callously about, the decaying dead underfoot, souls trampled beneath the weight of duty. We all know why we are here.
There. From the other side.
Can you hear it?
It is the rooster, a fresh voice in the choir.
The carnivale has come to town.
Mount Olive was an old cemetery in West Philadelphia, the final resting place of hundreds of Civil War dead as well as of some of Philadelphia's most famous and infamous citizens.
As with other areas of the City of Brotherly Love, including the design and layout of Benjamin Franklin Parkway with its similarity to the Champs Elysees, the concept of the pastoral graveyard was based on a Parisian model.
Framed on three sides by residential neighborhoods, Mount Olive was bordered to the northwest by Fairmount Park. Incorporated in the mid-1800s, it was a non-sectarian graveyard that at one time had been nearly four hundred acres in area. It was established at a time when older, smaller urban graveyards, located in city blocks and alongside churches, had stood in the way of Philadelphia's booming development, and over the course of many years a number of the interred had been moved to Mount Olive. But even though the cemetery was a National Historic Landmark and on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, over the years it had become the victim of vandalism, dumping, and theft. And now, with many of the families of the dead having moved away, some areas of the graveyard had fallen into a state of disrepair.
Jessica and Byrne stood on Kingsessing Avenue. Two sector cars were already on the scene, as well as a departmental sedan and a van from the Crime Scene Unit.
A second team had already been dispatched to the other crime scene. The location of the second body was a parking lot in Northern Liberties. Nicci Malone would be the lead investigator on that case. Jessica and Byrne would be briefed by phone by Dana Westbrook.
David Albrecht appeared from behind a grove of trees at the northern end of the graveyard. He shouldered his camera, took shots of the mausoleum, the grounds, the arriving personnel. After a few minutes he approached Jessica and Byrne.
'I should have asked about this before,' he said. 'Is it okay to shoot here?'
'I don't see why not,' Jessica said. 'As long as you hang back until CSU has done its job.'
'I don't want to disrespect the dead.'
'I think it's okay.'
Albrecht looked out over the grounds. He pointed to a small monument. It was a single headstone, carved in Georgia gray granite. 'That's my father's grave,' he said. He shrugged, perhaps a bit apologetically. 'I haven't been here in a while. I guess I should probably pay a visit.'
The three of them fell silent for a moment. Finally Byrne broke the calm. 'We're going to be here for a while, David. Take your time.'
'Okay,' Albrecht said. 'Thanks.'
He put the camera at his side, traversed the grounds, stopped at the monument. He crossed himself, bowed his head.
Jessica scanned the area. On the corner, talking to a man Jessica assumed worked for the cemetery, was Josh Bontrager. When the other man left, Bontrager noticed Jessica and Byrne, waved them over.
'What do you have?' Byrne asked.
'Female DOA,' Bontrager said, pointing over his shoulder. Jessica could see a sheet-covered form about twenty yards away. Next to the body stood a CSU officer. Because the potential crime scene was so large, a wide area had been taped off around the body, the sheet that covered it secured with stakes driven into the ground.
'Do we know how long the body has been here?' Byrne asked.
'Not too long.' Bontrager took out his notepad. 'There's a service here later today, and the guy who does the digging found the body about six this morning. He said he was here late yesterday afternoon and he went by the plot, didn't see anything. So the dump occurred sometime between four yesterday afternoon and six this morning.'
Byrne looked at the fences. 'How secure is this place?'
'Not very secure at all,' Bontrager said. He gestured toward the area bordering the two main streets. 'I walked two sides of it when I got here. Lots of places where you can get in and not be seen. Lots of tree cover.'
'Did the man who works here move or touch anything?'
'He says no. As you might imagine, he's not particularly disturbed by the sight of dead bodies. But a homicide victim is another story. He said he saw the body, lit a cigarette, hit the flask of tequila he's not supposed to have, and called his boss.'
'Did he leave the area after the call?'
'Again, he says no. I'm inclined to believe him.'
'Is the body near a plot?' Jessica asked.
'Right on top of one,' Bontrager said.
'Any ID on the victim?'
'No,' Bontrager said. 'Not yet, anyway. I haven't done a full search of the area.'
Byrne took another look around. 'Is this our bad guy, Josh?'
'Oh yeah. This is our bad guy,' Bontrager replied. 'No doubt about it.'
'All right,' Byrne said. 'Let's go look at a dead body in a cemetery.'
The three of them walked onto the grounds, down a narrow weedgrown path between headstones that dated from the mid-1800s. Every tenth site or so had been tended to some degree, with the grass trimmed around the stone, plastic flowers placed. Most of the grave sites were criminally unkempt.
When they reached the top of the rise Jessica glanced over her shoulder. The place was beginning to teem. She noticed that there were now a half-dozen more people, including representatives from the DA's office. The fact that the DA had a presence let the detectives know what priority these killings were being given.
The three detectives gathered around the site. Josh Bontrager looked at Jessica, then at Byrne. He crouched down next to the body. Jessica nodded. Bontrager drew back the sheet.
'Ah, Christ,' Byrne said. He spoke for everyone.
As with the previous victim, the middle-aged female's body was nude, shaved clean of all hair, as was her head. Jessica immediately noticed the bruises around her ankles. She had been shackled.
Wrapped around the victim's head was a white paper band, identical to the one that they had found wrapped around Kenneth Beckman's head. There was a red wax seal. Also identical were the blood patterns. One lateral slash to the forehead. Beneath it and to the left was another splotch, in a circular pattern. The area near the right ear was marked with blood in a figure eight.
If these were the similarities to the condition in which Kenneth Beckman had been found, there was a difference. This victim was lying on her side, behind the grave marker. One foot was resting on top of the marker. The other leg, the left leg, was bent completely back at an impossible angle. Jessica saw the bone protruding from the victim's thigh.
'ME's been here?' Byrne asked.
Bontrager nodded, pointed to the CSU officer who was leaning against a nearby tree and smoking a cigarette. 'Video, too.'
Jessica looked at the headstone. The victim's right leg extended toward the grave marker, which was half covered in debris and dead grass. The foot rested directly over the center.
'Kevin. Give me a hand here.'
Both detectives snapped on latex gloves. They knelt on either side of the body and gently lifted the victim's right leg, moving it just a few inches, being careful not to disturb any of the area next to the grave. They lowered the victim's leg gently. Jessica looked at the grave marker. It was not nearly as old as the ones that surrounded it, looking as though it had been positioned no more than a few years earlier. A shift in the ground had lowered it a few inches so that the marker's engraving was now covered in dirt.
Byrne motioned to the CSU officer standing nearby, who tossed away his cigarette, walked over and took a number of additional pictures. When he was finished, Byrne took out a pocket knife and began to scrape away the mud. The first thing to be revealed was a carving, one with which Jessica was not familiar. It did not appear to be a Catholic or Christian symbol – praying hands, an angel, a crucifix. As they cleared away more dirt, Jessica thought the symbol was beginning to look like a flower, a red flower with narrow petals.
Byrne brushed away the last of the mud and revealed that it wasn't a flower at all but rather a Chinese character. Beneath it, running vertically, were three other characters, all red.
A few minutes later they had the bottom of the headstone cleared of dirt, and saw what they were looking for. The person interred in this space had died on March 21, 2002.
Her name was Antoinette Chan.
Jessica looked at Byrne, a bolt of electricity passing between them.
Across town, a man had been found murdered, his head wrapped in a band of white paper. A man named Kenneth Beckman. Here in West Philadelphia, a second body is found, its head too wrapped in white paper. This victim, still unidentified, is found on the grave of a young woman who was also murdered.
Murdered, it is believed, by Kenneth Beckman.
'Let's check her hands,' Byrne said.
Byrne lifted the victim's right hand, checked it. Nothing. He circled the body, gently lifted her left hand. There, on the index finger, was a small tattoo. Instead of a lion, this time it was a rooster.
Jessica took a few photographs, her heart starting to race. She glanced over at Byrne. He wore an expression she had come to know well over the years, one that barely contained a cold rage.
Byrne squatted next to the body and began to undo the paper that wrapped the victim's head.
'Kevin, the ME's office is on the way,' Jessica said. 'You should wait.'
'Yeah, well, I should be living in Cazumel with the Corr sisters, too,' Byrne said. 'I don't see either of these things happening.'
Byrne gently unwrapped the victim's head, carefully removing the wax seal first and dropping it into a small evidence bag. The first thing that Jessica noticed when the paper was removed was that the laceration across the forehead, and the puncture wound, were in almost the same places as they'd been with the first victim.
The second thing Jessica noticed was that the dead woman was Sharon Beckman.
The feelings coursed through Byrne, sensations that grew exponentially. He paced like an animal.
He stepped behind a tree as the feeling surged, filling his head like an onrush of water from a broken dam. It was followed by a moment of vertigo. He steadied himself, tried to wait it out, trying not to notice as…
… the man walks across the cemetery in darkness… he is strong… the dead weight of Sharon Beckman's body is nothing to him
… he does not search for the grave site, he knows where it is. He is familiar with this cemetery, all cemeteries. He places her on the ground, steels himself. He is not quite finished. He leaps into the air, and bears down with great force, breaking the dead woman's leg, positioning it back because it means something to him and…
Byrne opened his eyes, got his bearings. He had forgotten where he was, what he was doing. This was getting bad.
The crime scene swarmed with people. Byrne glanced at his watch. It had only been ten seconds. It felt like an hour.
He walked back to the grave site. Information had trickled in about the second body. This had been found in a Dumpster behind a building at Second and Poplar. According to the initial report the victim, a middle-aged male, had been found nude, his forehead wrapped in white paper, his body clean of all hair.
Three bodies in two days. This case was about to break wide open. Wall-to-wall TV and print news, perhaps even national attention. There was a ghoul on the streets of Philadelphia, a monster who was strangling people, shaving their bodies and marking their flesh. When they had found Kenneth Beckman's body they had all hoped that it was an isolated incident, that it was some sort of personal vendetta. It was not. It was bigger than that. There were now three corpses, and everyone had the nasty feeling that there would be more.
Byrne approached Jessica. 'I have that MRI. I have to go.'
'We've got this covered,' Jessica said. 'Don't worry.'
Byrne did not want to leave. The first two hours were the most critical time of a homicide investigation. After that, memories faded, people thought better of getting involved, forensic evidence had a way of giving itself back to nature. Although neither he nor Jessica were the lead investigator on this case, every warm body was critical.
'Kevin,' Jessica said. 'Go to your appointment.'
'I want to stop by the other scene first. This is out of control.'
'I'll go,' Jessica said. 'You don't have to-'
But Byrne was already on his way. He held his cellphone up as he walked back to the car. 'Call me,' he said.
Leaving the cemetery, Byrne saw the names of the dead carved in time-weathered stone, dates marking fleeting lives, parentheses of birth and death. Out of respect, out of the disquieting knowledge that one day someone would be walking on his final resting place, he did his best to avoid stepping on the graves.
At first it is a muffled sound, like that of a wounded animal. I hear it the moment I step inside the room. It soon becomes crystal clear.
I will not be here long. I have much to do. I may be a poor cartwright, but my marchioness awaits.
I am not alone in this room. There are others here. We are all part of something, fractions of a whole. They talk to me, to each other, but I don't hear them. I hear what happened here years ago.
I stand in the corner, close my eyes. The scene unfolds, like a stage play viewed through frosted glass, two figures forever mired in a dark and terrible vignette.
She is a shy girl, no more than eleven. She has long blonde hair, woven into a braid.
'Who are you? Are you a friend of my mom's?'
'Yes. We are old friends.'
'You shouldn't be here.'
'It's okay. I like your dress. It is very pretty.'
'I have a prettier dress. One made especially for you.'
'Oh yes. It is your favorite color.'
'A very pretty blue.'
'Can I see it?'
'Where do you know my mom from?'
'We work together.'
'My mom doesn't work anymore.'
'This was from before. From a long time ago.'
'Do you know the story of Eve?'
'Yes. Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eve who was tempted by an apple.'
The blade removed from its sheath the creak of worn leather the sound of a little heart beating in fear 'I don't want you here anymore.'
'I won't hurt you.'
'I want you to leave, mister.'
'Don't you want your pretty new dress?'
The blade shimmers in the bright afternoon sunlight 'I'm going to get my sister. I want you to leave now.'
The blade flutters and darts soaring high into the air 'Eve.'
The neighbors say they heard one scream that day, an unearthly wail that cooled the blood in their veins.
I hear it, too.
It is a sound that began a thousand millennia ago, a red wind that has blown through the ages, finding cracks in the world, a breeze that became a howling sirocco here, in the soul of a killer, in the festering heart of Room 1208.
Lucy walked down Eighteenth Street in what she had once heard, from one therapist or another, was a fugue state.
She couldn't get that photograph out of her mind.
That couldn't have been her house on Melbourne Road. It wasn't possible. It was just a picture of one of a million bungalows. They all looked alike, didn't they? Especially the crappy ones.
But what about that flag, Luce? Did they all have that raggedy flag hanging off the porch by a rusted nail, that stupid pennant that was supposed to mean Spring? The one you were supposed to change every three months but no one ever did, not once in all the time they lived there? They had all of them – Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, all four seasons, each looking more tattered than the other – but they never changed Spring.
What about that, Luce?
What about the Spring flag?
She didn't have an answer, just as she had no idea what had happened during those twenty minutes she couldn't recall. Somehow she must have talked about the day she disappeared. What did she say? And why didn't Mr. Costa tell her what she'd said? Wasn't that why she went to see him?
It was all part of the process, she guessed. And she had two more visits to go.
From the time she was six or seven years old, Lucy had been an ace mechanic. Not with cars, necessarily, although she could now do basic maintenance on most cars – changing oil, replacing plugs and belts, the occasional brake job if it didn't involve turning the drums or rotors. No, her forte was small appliances. Bring her a stopped tape player, a cold toaster oven, a dimmed lamp – and a lot of the staff of Le Jardin often did – and she would have it up and running by the end of lunchtime.
She had not gone to a vocational training school, or taken any classes, correspondence or otherwise. It was a natural ability, combined with a necessity of life.
When she was small, on the night forays during which she and her mother picked through trash they would often find all kinds of discarded items – toaster ovens, blenders, tape players. Lucy's mother would haul them back to their apartment, giddy with swag, then pretty much forget about them. Weeks later she would throw them out, and Lucy would rescue them a second time. She started with the easy ones, but eventually got better at repair.
Although she didn't know it, she was practicing reverse engineering.
By the time she was ten, Lucy would go out to dumps, finding her own things to repair. She knew every second-hand dealer in their small towns. Where most kids were reading Dick and Jane, Lucy pored over Sam's Photofact.
In addition, on her jaunts into the stores Lucy always stole the same color clothes – sweaters, sweatshirts, skirts. She even replaced some of her mother's clothes. Her mother was always falling down, ripping her clothes. Lucy got it down to a science. She could steal a brand new dress and worry the material just enough so that her mother never knew she was wearing a different garment. Her mother was a proud woman in many ways, and it broke Lucy's heart to see her going around in ratty clothes.
On this day, Lucy found herself in the Macy's near City Hall. She made her way over to the children's section, found a sweater that looked to be the right size. She picked up two of them, carried them around for a while. When she got to the women's section she selected a dress, brought it into the dressing room.
Inside she got out her small toolkit and, with her back to the mirrors – she knew all the tricks – removed the electronic tags from one sweater and the dress, affixing them to the second sweater. She slipped the first sweater and the dress into her bag, left the dressing room, replaced the other sweater on the display rack, tarried a bit to make sure that she wasn't being watched, then walked out of the store.
When she arrived back at Le Jardin, with just a few minutes to spare, Lucy could see that the convention guests – the members of Sociйtй Poursuite – were milling about the lobby. They weren't all guests, of course. It was a convention that attracted a lot of locals, as well as people from all over the tri-state area who drove in for the three days of seminars, lectures and dinners.
In all, over the next few hours there would be ninety-two new guests, and all of them had to be quickly and efficiently processed, greeted with smiles and pleasant repartee, their concerns listened to with rapt attention, their every need anticipated and met, their next three days in the city of Philadelphia – and specifically in Le Jardin – a promised and delivered haven.
Lucy stopped by the Loss Prevention office, picked up her room key.
A door to your subconscious, Mr. Costa had called it. A portal to what happened to you nine years ago.
Lucy finished her last room, room 1214, at 3:45.
She stepped into the closet, closed the door, sat down. In moments, the darkness embraced her. When she closed her eyes she saw the town of Shanksville, Pennsylvania from above, saw the school on Cornerstone Road, Lake Stonycreek, and the church on Main Street.
The Dreamweaver had asked her questions, his silken voice floating above her, behind her, around her, like a warm breeze. Her own voice belonged to a little girl.
What day is it, Lucy?
Is it morning, afternoon, evening?
It's morning. Tuesday morning.
Around ten. I didn't go to school.
Mama was out the night before, and she didn't get up in time.
Where are you?
I am across the street from the church.
Are you alone?
No. Mama's with me. She is wearing her long leather coat. The one with the rip in the right pocket. She is wearing sunglasses. She asked a lady for a cigarette and the lady gave her one.
What happened then?
There was a big bang. It was loud. Even the ground shook.
What did you do?
I don't remember exactly.
Try to remember. Do you smell anything? Taste anything?
I taste milkshake.
What flavor is it?
Chocolate. But it's warm milkshake. I don't like warm milkshake.
What about smell?
I smell smoke, but not like regular smoke. Not like burning leaves, or logs in a fireplace. More like when people burn their plastic garbage bags.
What happens next?
I stand here for a long time, watching the fire and smoke rise up into the sky.
Where is your mother?
Right beside me. Or maybe not.
What do you mean?
Someone is beside me, but I'm not looking at that person. I can't take my eyes off the smoke over the trees. It is making pretty patterns in the sky.
What kind of patterns?
At first it looks like the face of Jesus. Then it looks likes birds.
What happens next?
I reach up my hand for my mother to take me somewhere. Anywhere but here. I'm scared.
Does she take your hand?
I take the person's hand, but as we walk away I realize it can't be my mom.
The hand is too big. And rough. It is a man's hand.
Is there anything else you remember?
Yes. We get into a car. And there is a new smell. Two new smells.
What are the new smells?
A different kind of smoke. Different from the burning plastic smell. Like from a pipe, I think. A pipe that people smoke. Like men smoke.
And what else?
Apples. Empire apples. We have lots of apples in Western Pennsylvania. Especially near the fall.
Do you remember what else happened that day?
The fire. The ground shaking. Being scared.
What about the man? What happened with him?
I don't know.
What about his face? Do you see his face?
When I look at his face it isn't there.
What about the fire? Do you remember what that was? Do you remember what caused the fire?
Yes. I remember, but only because I found out later.
What was it?
It was Flight 93. It was September 11, 2001, and Flight 93 crashed right near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Lucy looked down at her hands. She had been clenching her fists so tightly that she had eight little red crescents on the palms of her hands. She eased her fists open, stepped out of the closet, looked around. For a few crazy moments she did not know what room she was in. Most people, even people who worked at Le Jardin, would be hard pressed to tell the standard guest rooms apart, their only clues being, perhaps, the view from any given window But Lucy knew every room on the twelfth floor. It was her floor.
She smoothed out her uniform, stepped into the bathroom, went through the mental checklist in her mind, then checked the entire room.
She opened the door, stepped into the hall. Two older men were approaching from the elevator. They were probably with the convention. Everyone on the floor this week was with the convention. They nodded to her, smiled. She smiled back, although she didn't feel it inside.
When she reached the business center on the twelfth floor – really just a small niche with computer, fax machine and printer – she sensed another guest coming down the hall. The unwritten rule was that in the hallways, elevators and most public spaces, guests, along with all front-of-the-house personnel, had the right of way. You didn't hide or sidestep from anyone, but if you were any good at your job you knew how to defer with style.
Lucy stepped into the alcove just as the man passed the door of the business center. She did not get a good look at him, just a glimpse of his dark coat.
But she didn't have to see him. It was not her sense of sight that took the floor from beneath her. It was her sense of smell.
There, beneath the hotel smells of cleaning products and filtered, heated air, was another smell, a scent that closed a cold hand over her heart, a smell that unquestionably trailed behind the man who had just passed her in the hallway.
The smell of apples.
She looked down the hall, and knew that he had come out of one of the rooms. Was it 1208? It had to be. She had just cleaned the other two rooms at that end, and they were empty.
Lucy pushed her cart madly down the hall, caught the service elevator to the basement. She left her cart in the basement, ran up the steps toward the service entrance to the first floor. She tried to calm herself as she walked toward the lobby. She didn't know what she would do if she confronted the man, or even who she was looking for.
She stepped into the northern end of the lobby. There were three men in the lobby, none of them wearing or carrying a dark overcoat. Everyone else was staff.
She went out the side door, onto Sansom Street. The sidewalk was crowded. Men, women, children, people making deliveries, cab drivers. She rounded the corner, looked in front of the hotel. Two bellmen were taking bags out of a limo for an elderly couple.
Lucy's heartbeat began to slow. She took a moment, then walked up the drive on the east side of the hotel.
The smell of apples.
It had to be her imagination. Brought on by going to see that crazy old man. She was never going to find out what had happened on those three days. Not really.
She rounded the wall at the back of the hotel, turned the corner.
She stopped, her heart in her throat, her legs all but giving out. She knew the man standing before her. She knew his face.
'It's you,' she said.
'Yes, Lucy,' he replied. 'It's Detective Byrne.'
Jessica spent the early afternoon running data through ViCAP, the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program. Started by the FBI in 1985, ViCAP was a national registry of violent crimes – homicides, sexual assaults, missing persons, and unidentified remains. Case information submitted to ViCAP was available to authorized law-enforcement agencies around the world, and the system allowed investigators to compare their evidence with all other cases in the database and to identify similarities.
Jessica searched the database with the most salient points of the case, those being the signature marks of the shaving of the victims, as well as the use of paper to blindfold them.
She found a similar case from 2006 in Kentucky, where a man had shaved off the hair of three prostitutes before stabbing them to death and dumping their bodies along the banks of the Cumberland River. In this case the man had shaved only the hair on the victims' heads, including their eyebrows – not their entire bodies. There was another 1988 case in Eureka, California of a man who had shaved a strange pattern into the scalps of four victims. The pattern was later identified, through the man's confession, as what he thought were the first four letters of an alien alphabet.
There were many cases of blindfolded victims, most being execution- style homicides. There were also numerous examples of preand post-mortem mutilations. None matched Jessica and Byrne's case.
There were no incidents where all three signatures were present.
Jessica was just about to print off what she needed when all hell broke loose in the duty room. She stood aside as a half-dozen members of the Fugitive Squad ran down the hallway, then through the door to the stairs. They were soon followed by three men wearing US Marshals windbreakers.
Why were the US Marshals there? The purview of the marshal's office, among other things, was the apprehending of fugitives, the transport and managing of prisoners, as well as the protection of witnesses.
Jessica looked across the room to see Dana Westbrook walking toward her. 'What happened?' she asked.
'We had a break.'
Unfortunately, what Westbrook clearly meant was there had been a prison break, not a break in Jessica's case.
'From downstairs?' The sub-basement of the Roundhouse was where the PPD holding cells were located. The holding cells were staffed by the county sheriffs office, not the police.
Westbrook shook her head. 'From CF.'
Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, on State Road, was a prison in Northeast Philly. In Jessica's entire time on the job she had never heard of a break from CF. 'What happened?'
'It's sketchy right now, but it looks like the prisoner got his hands on a visitor's pass and some street clothes. They've got video of him just waltzing out of the visitor's area.'
The security at CF was tight, which probably meant that the escapee had an accomplice of some sort. Jessica knew the drill. Members of the PPD Fugitive Squad would team up both with US Marshals and with officers from the Pennsylvania State Police. They would scour motels, bus stations, train stations, and of course establish surveillance of the prisoner's residence and those of his known associates. She also knew there was a pretty good chance that a head or two would roll at Curran-Fromhold.
'Fugitive Squad is all over it, and as you can see the marshals are in,' Westbrook said. 'Only a matter of time. Captain wanted me to give you a heads-up, anyway.'
This got Jessica's attention. 'Me? Why?'
'The prisoner? The guy who escaped?'
'What about him?'
'He's your AA Killer suspect. Lucas Anthony Thompson.'
Byrne returned to the Roundhouse at just after three p.m. Jessica had tried to call him twice, got his voicemail both times.
'How did the doctor's appointment go?' she asked.
Jessica just stared. Byrne knew better than to give her the bum's rush on something like this, yet still he tried. Her icy look firmly in place, the moment drew out. Byrne caved in.
'They took the MRI, now they have to read the results. They said they'd call me.'
Byrne took a deep breath, realizing he had to play this game or he'd never hear the end of it. 'Maybe tomorrow.'
'You'll let me know the second you hear from them, right?'
'Don't make me ground you.'
Jessica told Byrne about Thompson, as well as the scant information she had harvested on ViCAP. Then she gathered her notes, filled him in on the rest of the details regarding the second victim found that day. Black male, mid-fifties, no ID. Initial canvass turned up nothing.
'Has he been printed?' Byrne asked.
'The body's on the way to the morgue now. Boss is going to put Russ Diaz and his team on this. Russ did four years in Behavioral Science, you know. I have a sneaking suspicion we're going to need him.'
'What about the signature?'
'Identical,' Jessica said.
They turned back to the case files on the desk. Three bodies. Three identical MOs. Kenneth and Sharon Beckman were tied to the murder of Antoinette Chan. In the case of serial murder, the first order of business was to try and establish a link between the victims, a commonality that might lead to a denominator they all shared – job, family, circle of friends – and ultimately to the killer. Connecting Kenneth and Sharon Beckman was, of course, easy. They'd see about this new victim.
'I ordered you some garlic prawns, by the way,' Jessica said. 'But it got eaten. You know how Chinese food goes in this place. Like pork in a kennel.'
'I ate at the hospital,' Byrne said. 'But I did bring dessert.' He held up a white bag.
Jessica sat up straight in her chair. Dessert at lunch! She beckoned forth the bag. Byrne handed it to her.
Jessica opened the bag and saw that it was an apple fritter from that bakery on Seventeenth she liked.
'What took you to Seventeenth?' she asked.
'I had to pick up a pre-amp from a guy.'
'And a pre-amp would be…'
'I'm converting all my old vinyl records to digital. Some of them are old 78s, and I'm trying to clean up the sound.'
Jessica took out the apple fritter, thinking that she couldn't wait for that moment in her life – a moment she fully expected, a moment she fully intended to savor – when she just didn't care about her weight anymore, a moment when she could fully embrace the slide into middle age and obesity.
Or when she got pregnant again. Pregnant would be better.
She bit into the apple fritter. Heaven. 'You can get MRIs as often as you want.'
'We're going to have to give statements, you know.'
Jessica nodded, wiped her lips. She and Byrne had met with Sharon Beckman the day before, and now the woman was the victim of a homicide. Jessica and Byrne had become part of the timeline.
The call came at just after four. Nicci Malone and Nick Palladino were at the morgue with the third victim. Jessica put them on speaker.
'We're at the ME's,' Nicci said. 'You wanted me to call?'
'Yeah,' Jessica said. 'Have you checked the victim's hands for tattoos?'
'No. We bagged them at the scene. You want us to check here?'
'Yeah,' Jessica said.
The next minute took somewhere around an hour for Jessica and Byrne. They both paced, neither of them having anything to say. They heard more rustling, then Nicci put the phone back up to her ear.
'Yeah, Nicci,' Jessica said. 'Is there a tattoo?'
'There is,' Nicci said. 'It's a tattoo of a swan. A tiny blue swan. It's on the index finger of his left hand.'
Someone was on a rampage in the city of Philadelphia and every resource had to be summoned to stop him. The fact that the body of Kenneth Beckman had been found a half-block from an elementary school put two other agencies on alert. Personnel had already been dispatched to Washington Elementary.
Over the next few hours the apparatus of an investigation handling multiple murders would gear up around them. Off-duty detectives would be called in, various sections of the forensic lab would be put on alert.
'Can you take a picture of the tattoo and send it to me?' Jessica asked.
'Sure,' Nicci said.
A few minutes later, Jessica received the image on her cellphone. She put it next to photos of Kenneth and Sharon Beckman that had been taken. The tattoo was in the same style. She got online to the World Ink site, put the word 'swan' in the search box, hit Enter. Soon a page came up with six different images of stylized swan tattoos. The third tattoo was a perfect match.
Michael Drummond arrived at five-thirty. The ADA had news for them.
'Before I left the office I heard from World Ink's legal department, which, for all I know, might have been a lawyer working out of his car,' Drummond said. He pulled out a fax, handed a copy to Jessica.
'It turns out that you can buy these tattoos a la carte, with a minimum of six tattoos in the order. They searched their database and discovered that, in the past year, they had sold only one package that contained the first two tattoos we found on the victims – the lion and the rooster.'
Drummond pulled out another fax.
'They mailed the package to a post-office box in Jersey City, New Jersey, which turned out to be a remailer. From there it went to a USPS box in Allentown.'
This meant that, for the moment, their most promising avenue of the investigation was blocked. Getting information on who rented a PO Box presented a whole new set of challenges. Anytime you dealt with a federal agency the red tape was massive. On this they would have to bring in the postal inspectors.
Drummond glanced at the notes in Jessica's notebook.
'So there's been a third murder,' he said. It was a statement, not a question.
Jessica picked up her iPhone, showed Drummond the photo of the victim, as well as the close-up of the tattoo. Drummond scanned the pictures, then looked at his watch. 'All right. I know where the judges will be drinking in about an hour. I'll catch them between their second and third martinis.' He gathered his papers. 'Speaking of martinis, are you coming to my party, Jess?'
Jessica had forgotten all about it. She hoped it didn't show on her face. 'Of course. Looking forward to it.'
'I'll get on the feds.' Drummond smiled, held up his phone. 'I'll call you later.'
Ten minutes later, with everything printed off, Jessica and Byrne stood in front of the material. There was no question that the tattoos purchased from World Ink were the same tattoos found on the victims.
The bad news was that, according to the material they had just received from Drummond, in the packet of tattoos mailed to their killer there were five other tattoos. Turtle, donkey, elephant, kangaroo, and fish.
Eight tattoos in all. The thought was chilling.
Would there be eight murders?
The house in Lexington Park was nearly empty, save for the hundred or so boxes stacked in the attic, upper hallway, living room and kitchen. The furniture was gone. The dining-room chandelier, an heirloom passed down from Jessica's grandmother, had been carefully packed and spirited away, as had all her mother's cut-crystal goblets.
Three dozen people crowded the first floor, eating wings and crab fries from Chickie's and Pete's. Among them were a who's who from the police department, crime lab and district attorney's office. Chits cashed, favors recalled, Jessica had been batting her eyelashes for weeks; Vincent had been twisting arms, sometimes literally, for months.
Also downstairs were Jessica's father Peter Giovanni, most of her cousins, Colleen Byrne and her friend Laurent, Byrne's father Paddy. Just about everyone who could be roped in was in attendance.
Byrne arrived a little late.
Jessica and Byrne stood at the top of the stairs, at the entrance to the attic. Before them was arrayed a roomful of boxes.
'Wow,' Byrne said.
'I'm a total pack rat, aren't IP'
Byrne looked around, shrugged. 'It's not that bad. I've seen worse. Remember the old lady on Osage, the one with two hundred cats?'
Jessica noticed some hair on Byrne's shoulder. She reached over, brushed it off.
'Did you get a haircut?'
'Yeah,' he said. 'I popped in and got a trim.'
'You popped in?'
'Yeah. No good?'
'No, it looks fine. It's just that I've never "popped in" for a haircut. It takes me four to six weeks to make the decision, then it's another month of doubt, steering committees, estimates, near misses, appointments cancelled at the last second. It's a life-changing event for me.'
'Well, it's pretty much a haircut for me.'
'You have it so easy.'
'Oh yeah,' Byrne said. 'My life's a Happy Meal.'
Jessica lifted a few boxes that were, mercifully, light. At least she had taken to labeling things in the past few years. This one read ST. PATRICK'S DAY ORNAMENTS. She did not remember ever buying or displaying St. Patrick's Day ornaments. It looked like she was going to keep them nonetheless, so she could not use them in the future. She put the box by the top of the stairs, turned back.
'Let me ask you something,' she said.
'How many times have you moved in the last ten years?'
Byrne thought for a few moments. 'Four times,' he said. 'Why?'
'I don't know. I guess I was just wondering if you're still hanging onto a bunch of completely pointless, useless crap.'
'No,' Byrne said. 'Everything I have is absolutely necessary. I'm a Spartan.'
'Right. You should know that I once talked to Donna about this very thing.'
In the past few years Jessica and Byrne's ex-wife Donna had become good friends.
'Oh yeah. And she said that when you guys were married, and you moved from the apartment into your house, the first thing you packed was your Roger Ramjet nightlight.'
'Hey! That was a safety issue, okay?'
'Uh-huh. Still have it?'
'I do not,' Byrne said. 'I have a Steve Canyon nightlight now. Roger Ramjet is for kids.'
'Tell you what,' Jessica said. 'I will if you will.'
It was a game they sometimes played – like Truth or Dare, but without the dare. Ninety-nine percent of the time is was light-hearted. Once in a while it was serious. This was not one of those times. Still, there were rules.
'Sure,' Byrne said. 'You're on.'
'Okay. What is the most ludicrous piece of clothing you still own? I mean, something you know you will never wear again, not in a million years, but you just can't bring yourself to part with it?'
'That's an easy one.'
'Oh yeah,' Byrne said. 'A pair of 33-inch waist green velvet pants. Real plum-smugglers.'
Jessica almost laughed. She cleared her throat instead. No laughing was one of the big rules of the game. 'Wow.' It was all she could muster.
'Is that wow I once had a 33-inch waist, or wow green velvet?'
This was a no-win question. She opted for the velvet.
'Well,' Byrne said. 'I bought them in New York in my Thin Lizzy days. I really wanted to be Phil Lynott. You should have seen me.'
'I would pay good money for that,' Jessica said. 'A lot of women in the department would chip in, too.'
'What about you?'
Jessica glanced at her watch. 'My God. Look at the time.'
'Okay. When I was nineteen, going to Temple, I had a date with this guy – Richie Randazzo. He invited me to his cousin's wedding in Cheltenham and I saved for three months for the cutest little red dress from Strawbridge's. It's a size four. I still have it.'
'What, you're not a size four?'
'You are the greatest man who has ever lived.'
'As if this were in doubt,' Byrne said. 'One question, though.'
'You went out with a guy named Richie Randazzo?'
'If you didn't factor in the mullet, the rusted-out Toronado with the fur-trimmed rearview mirror, and the fact that he drank Southern Comfort and Vernor's, he was kind of cute.'
'At least I never had a mullet,' Byrne said. 'Ever.'
'I could always check with Donna, you know.'
Byrne looked at his watch. 'Look at the time.'
Jessica laughed, letting him off the hook. She fell silent for a few moments, looking around the attic. It occurred to her that she would never be back in this room. 'Man.'
'My whole life is in these boxes.' She opened a box, took out some photos. On top were pictures of her parents' wedding.
Out of the corner of her eye Jessica saw Byrne turn away for a second, giving her the moment with her memories. Jessica put the photos back.
'So, let me ask you one more thing,' she said.
Jessica took a few seconds. She hoped that her voice was going to be steady. She put her hand on one of the boxes, the one with the piece of green yarn around it. 'If you have something, some memento that is a part of your life, and you know that the next time you see it, it's going to break your heart, do you keep it? Do you hold onto it anyway? Even though you know it is going to cause you pain the next time you look at it?'
Byrne knew that she was talking about her mother.
'Do you remember her well?' he asked.
Jessica had been five years old when her mother died. Her father had never remarried, had never loved another woman. 'Yeah. Sometimes. Not her face, though. I remember how she smelled. Her shampoo, her perfume. I remember how in summer, when we went to Wildwood, she smelled like Coppertone and cherry Life Savers. And I remember her voice. She always sang with the radio.'
Heaven Must Have Sent You. It was one of her mother's favorites. Jessica hadn't thought of that song in years.
'How about you?' she asked. 'Do you think about your mom a lot?'
'Enough to keep her alive,' Byrne said and leaned against the wall. It was his storytelling pose.
'When I was a kid, and my father used to chew me out, my mother would always run interference, you know? I mean physically. She would physically get in between us. She wouldn't make excuses for me, and I always ended up getting punished, but while my father was upbraiding me she would stand with her hands clasped behind her back. I'd look at her hands, and she always had a fifty cent piece for me. My father never knew. I'd have to do my time, but afterwards I always had fifty- cents to blow on a water ice or a comic book when I got paroled.'
Jessica smiled, thinking about anyone – especially Paddy Byrne – intimidating her partner.
'She died on my birthday, you know,' Byrne said.
Jessica didn't know. Byrne had never told her this. At that moment she tried to think of something sadder than this, and found herself at a loss. 'I didn't know.'
Byrne nodded. 'You know how you always notice your birthday when you see it printed somewhere, or hear it mentioned in a movie or on television?'
'Yeah,' Jessica said. 'You always turn to the people around you and say hey… that's my birthday.'
Byrne smiled. 'It's like that for me when I go to the cemetery. I always do a double take when I see the headstone, even though I know.' He put his hands in his pockets. 'It will never be my birthday again. It will always be the day she died, no matter how long I live.'
Jessica couldn't think of anything to say. It mattered little, because she had never met a more perceptive person than Kevin Byrne. He always knew when to move things along.
'So, your question?' he asked. 'The one about whether or not to save something, even though you know it will break your heart?'
'What about it?'
Byrne reached into his pocket, pulled something out. It was a fifty-cent piece. Jessica looked at the coin, at her partner. At this moment, his eyes were the deepest emerald she had ever seen.
'It's a strange thing about heartbreak,' Byrne said. 'Sometimes it's the best thing for you. Sometimes it reminds you that your heart is still beating.'
They stood, saying nothing, cosseted in this drafty room full of memory and loss. The silence was shattered by the sound of a breaking dish downstairs. Irish and Italians and booze always led to broken ceramics. Jessica and Byrne smiled at each other, and the moment dissolved.
'Ready for the big bad city?' he asked.
Byrne picked up a box, headed for the stairs. He stopped, turned. 'You know, for a South Philly chick, you turned into kind of a wimp.'
'I have a gun in one of these boxes,' Jessica said.
Byrne ran down the steps.
By ten o'clock they had everything in the new house. What had seemed like a reasonable amount of goods in the Lexington Park house now filled up every room, every corner, every cabinet. If they put the sofa and two of the dining-room chairs on the roof, they could just about make everything fit.
Byrne stood across the street from the row house. A pair of older teenage girls walked by, reminding him of Lucy Doucette.
When he had first met Lucy at the group regression-therapy sessions she had seemed so lost. He did not know much about her life, but she had told him enough for him to know that she was troubled by a traumatic event in her childhood. He recalled her efforts at the regression-therapy group, her inability to recall anything about the incident. He didn't know if she had been molested or not. Running into her accidentally in the city reminded him how he had promised to look in on her from time to time. He had not.
It was a tiny voice. Byrne turned around and saw that it was Jessica's daughter Sophie, bundled up, standing on the sidewalk in front of the porch. The front door was open, and through it Byrne could see Peter Giovanni inside, leaning against the handrail, keeping one eye on his granddaughter. Once a father, always a cop.
Byrne crossed the street. For a long time Jessica had insisted that
Sophie should call him Mr. Byrne. It had taken a while for Byrne to change that, and it looked like it had finally taken hold. Byrne got down to Sophie's level, noticing that she wasn't as small as she had been even last year at this time. 'Hey, sweetie.'
'Thanks for helping out.'
'Oh, you're welcome,' Byrne said. 'Do you like your new house?'
Byrne looked over her shoulder. 'It's not that small. I think it's pretty cool.'
Sophie shrugged. 'It's all right, I guess.'
'Plus your school is only a block away. You can sleep late.'
Sophie giggled. 'You don't know my mom.'
The truth was, he did. He soon realized the folly of his statement.
Sophie glanced up the street. The looming structure of Sacred Heart Parochial School was silhouetted against the carbon-blue night sky. She looked back at Byrne. 'Did you go to Catholic school?'
'Oh yeah,' Byrne said. He wanted to tell her that he still had ruler marks on his knuckles to prove it, but decided against it.
'Did you like it?'
How to answer this? 'Well, do you have a kid in your school who is always goofing off, always getting into trouble?'
'Yeah,' Sophie said. 'In my school it's Bobby Tomasello.'
'Well, in my school that kid was me.'
'You got into trouble?'
'All the time,' Byrne said.
'Did they make you sit in the corner?'
Byrne smiled at the memory. 'Let me put it this way. Sister Mary Alice ended up putting my desk in the corner. It saved everyone a trip. In fact, I had a corner office in every one of my classrooms.'
Sophie's face softened into an expression that Byrne had seen a thousand times on Jessica's face, a look of compassion and understanding. 'It's all right, Kevin,' she said. 'You turned out okay.'
The jury was still out on that one, Byrne thought. Still, it was nice to hear, even if it was coming from a seven-year-old. Maybe especially from a seven-year-old. 'Thanks.'
They fell silent for a moment, listening to the sounds of the party coming from inside the house.
'I like Colleen,' Sophie said.
'Yeah,' Byrne said. 'She's pretty special.'
'She taught me something.'
Sophie nodded. She thought for a moment, wrinkling her brow, then balled her fists, extended a finger, stopped, thought a bit more, started over. This time she extended her hands, rubbed one palm across the other, lifted the index finger on each hand, bumped fists, and pointed at Byrne.
It was American Sign Language for 'Nice to meet you.'
'Very good,' Byrne said. 'Did you just learn that?'
Sophie nodded. 'It took me a few times.'
Byrne smiled. 'It took me -way more than a few times.'
A few minutes later he kissed Sophie on top of her head, watched her walk back inside. After she was inside, Byrne stood and observed Jessica's family through the window for a while. It had been a long time since he'd been part of something like this.
He thought about Sophie's sign language, how determined she was, how she stayed with it until she got it right. He considered how the oldest sayings were the truest, like that one about the apple not falling far from the tree.
Byrne walked down Third Street, got into the van. He had grown up not far from here. He remembered a variety store on the corner. He used to get his water pistols and comic books there, cadging the occasional Baby Ruth and Butterfinger. He remembered a kid who got beat up once in the alley behind the store, a kid who was thought to have molested a little girl from the neighborhood. Byrne had been sitting on the corner with his cousin Patrick when it happened. He remembered the kid screaming. It was the first time he had ever encountered violence like that, the first time he had ever heard someone in so much pain. He believed that all those sounds, all the dark echoes of violence, in many ways remained.
Byrne sat there for a long time, not moving, just rolling the fifty- cent piece over his fingers, the memories of his old neighborhood misting across his mind.
Someone emerged from the shadows just outside the driver's side window of the van. Byrne sat upright. It was Jessica. He rolled down the window.
'What's up?' he asked. 'Ready to move back already?'
'You know the paper that was wrapped around the victims' heads?'
'What about it?'
'We have a make.'
The crime lab – officially known as the Forensic Science Center, but never called that – was a massive building that had once been a schoolhouse, located just a few blocks from the Roundhouse at Eighth and Poplar Streets.
The reigning sovereign of the documents section was Sergeant Helmut Rohmer. Hell Rohmer was thirty-five, and a giant, measuring six-four, weighing two-fifty. Besides his strange and eclectic taste in music, which ran from Iron Maiden to Kitty Wells, he was known for his T-shirts – always black, never bearing the same saying twice. He must have had hundreds. He was starting to receive them in the mail, even from people he had helped put away in prison. Today his shirt read:
I HEAR BANJOS.
His considerable arms were ringed with rose tattoos, or some variation, which now finished with ivy circling his wrists and ending on the backs of his hands. He was always well-groomed – right down to his oddly manicured fingers. Jessica figured that his manicures had something to do with his sense of the tactile. Hell Rohmer didn't want anything interfering with his sense of touch. He was almost metaphysical in his approach to document forensics. It was one of the reasons why he and Byrne spoke the same language.
'Good evening, sleuths,' Hell said.
'Good evening, alchemist,' Byrne replied.
Hell smiled. 'I have your paper,' he said. 'You can only hide from the Weavemeister for so long.'
On the wall were six enlarged photographs of the paper found on the victims, front and back. The photographs showed the blood that had leached from the lacerations on each of the victim's foreheads, as well as the small dot of blood from the shallow puncture wound. A line, a dot, and the rough figure eight where the ears were mutilated.
'What do we have?' Jessica asked.
Hell picked up a small square of the paper sample, cut from the end of one of the bands. 'This is pricey stuff,' he said, running a finger across the slightly pebbled surface. 'It's beautiful, really. Our boy has exquisite taste.' Hell zoned for a moment, his eyes going a bit unfocused. Hell Rohmer was definitely a touchy-feely sort of guy.
'Okay. Sorry. The paper is handmade, a hundred percent cotton, acid-free. Which puts it into the same category as about ten thousand brands. I'm not equipped to do a comparison test to determine the make, and I was just about to send it off to the FBI – which, as you know, can take a month or two to get back – when I saw something.' Helmut held up a sample. 'This was cut from the paper we took from the female victim. If you look here, you can see a small segment of a watermark.' Hell held the paper up to a strong light, but not too close. Jessica saw what looked like the portion of a shoulder.
'Is that a cherub of some sort?' Jessica asked.
Hell shook his head. 'The watermark is Venus de Milo. It's not on the other sample, so I'm thinking these were cut from a larger sheet.'
Hell displayed another printout. It was an extreme close-up of the edge of the paper, photographed through a microscope. 'This was cut with a large blade, which is indicated by the slight tearing of the fiber. I think he used a paper cutter, instead of an X-acto blade, scissors, or razor blade. The shearing is consistent front to back, with the fibers pushed downward. Too uniform to have been done by hand.'
Hell pointed to the sample.
'And while this might look white, it is really Felt Light Grey. Deckled on two sides, which leads me to believe it's deckled on four. The band is twenty-four inches long, which leads me to believe it was cut from a sheet that was twenty-four by twenty-six, which is fairly standard in printmaking.'
'This is printmaking paper?'
'Among other things.'
Hell put the sample down, picked up a few pages of computer printouts.
'It's the watermark that jumped out. Without it, we would have had to wait for Washington on this.' He pointed to one of the lines on the printout, highlighted in lime green. 'The manufacturer of this paper is headquartered in Milan, Italy, and the line is called Atriana. Really high-end stuff. Printmaking, mostly, but they make all kinds of multi-use paper – stationery, canvas, vellum, linen. But this stuff is top of the line. One sheet of this paper retails for about seventy dollars.'
'Yeah,' Hell said. 'And dig this. This company also supplies the paper for the Euro.'
'They have two distributors in the US,' Hell said. 'As far as I can tell this paper is available at only twenty retail stores across the country. Mostly art supplies and specialty paper shops. Unfortunately – for us, not our bad boy – the paper can be ordered from a dozen online retailers.'
'Are there any stores in Philly that carry it?' Jessica asked.
'No,' Hell said. He smiled, held up a 3 x 5 card with an address on it. 'But there is a store in Doylestown.'
Jessica took the address.
'Thank you. And now to the wax.' On the table sat a small covered glass dish. The wax seal was inside. 'This is standard candle wax, not sealing wax, which is why it has begun to disintegrate.'
'What's the difference?'
'Well, about five hundred years ago, sealing wax was made primarily of beeswax and something called Venice turpentine, which is an extract of the larch tree. The wax was uncolored in those days, but when the Renaissance hit, folks started to color it with vermilion, and do you really want to know any of this?'
'Maybe one of these days,' Jessica said. 'Right now I'd love to know where our boy bought this. I would like a clear video of him leaving the store, and a copy of his driver's license. Do you have that?'
'No. And what's worse, this candle wax is available at every Rite- Aid, Wal-Mart and Target in the country. But not in this color.'
'What do you mean?'
'Well, what I was getting to, before I was so brusquely interrupted, was that this particular sample was not colored with any old vermilion.'
It took Jessica a second to realize what Hell Rohmer was saying. One look at Byrne told her he'd gotten it as well. She turned back to Hell.
'I'm afraid so. The coloring is blood. This is a bad, bad pony, this guy.'
Jessica looked at Byrne just as someone entered the lab and stopped by the door. Hell crossed the room, disappeared from Jessica's line of sight. In the reflection from one of the glass cabinets she saw that the new arrival was Irina Kohl. Irina had with her a few folders, one of which she placed in Hell's hands. Then Jessica saw the diminutive Irina get on her tiptoes and kiss Hell Rohmer flush on the mouth. Hell turned and saw that Jessica could see them in the cabinet's reflection.
The two of them, now red as raspberries, walked back to join Jessica and Byrne.
'Urn, you didn't see that,' Hell whispered to Jessica.
'I'm glad you're here,' Irina said, plowing forward. 'I think we may have something on the murder weapon.'
Irina Kohl worked in the lab's firearms ID unit, which also handled tool marks, and was in her late twenties, a prototypical lab dweller – neat in appearance, precise in manner and speech, probably a little too smart for Mensa. Beneath her lab coat she wore a suit coat, white button-down shirt, and lavender knit tie.
Irina opened a folder, removed some enlargements.
'The wire used as the ligature was made of woven multi-strand titanium.' She pointed to an extreme close-up of the ligature marks on the first two victims. Even to the naked eye the woven characteristics were visible. The flesh bore an imprint of the three-strand weave. 'We found traces of the metal in the wound.'
'What is something like this used for?' Jessica asked.
'There are a lot of uses for it. In general, titanium wire is specified for medical devices, bone screws, orthodontic appliances. In different gauges it is all over the aerospace, medical and marine manufacturing map. It is low-density and has a high resistance to corrosion.'
Irina then picked up a blown-up photograph, as well as a pair of slides.
'I also found hair samples in the ligature wound on the first two victims. We haven't gotten a crack at the third victim yet.' She pointed to the two slides. 'These are from Sharon Beckman and Kenneth Beckman.'
'Do you think this is our killer's hair?' Jessica asked.
'No,' Irina said. 'I'm afraid not. These samples are definitely not human.'
Jessica looked at Byrne, back. 'Not human as in…'
'Well, animal.' Irina pushed up her thick glasses. She scrunched her face, as if smelling something unpleasant. Jessica supposed this was her way of waiting for the conversation to regenerate. She also noted that the woman was wearing two different lipsticks. One shade on her upper lip, one on the lower.
'Well, duh, Jess,' Jessica said, berating herself. 'I mean, what else, alien?'
Irina continued, undaunted. 'Domestic animal specifically.'
'We're talking dog or cat?' Jessica asked.
'Not domesticated, necessarily. What I mean is domestic as in cow, sheep, horse.' Irina got a little more animated. 'See, if we're talking the hair of domestic animals there are a number of variations in color and length. However, a lot of these identifiers are pretty general. In order to tell the difference between, say, a dog and a cat, or between a cow and a moose, you really need the root to be present. Which, unfortunately, in this case, we do not have.'
She slipped a slide onto the stage of a microscope, clipped it in.
'But we're just getting started.' Irina smiled at Hell. Hell beamed.
Irina then peered into the microscope eyepiece, did a little fine focusing. 'If you take a look here, you can see it.' She stepped back.
Jessica stepped forward, looked through the microscope.
'You see it is quite coarse. The medulla is unbroken,' Irina said. 'The pigment is fine and evenly distributed.'
'Yeah,' Jessica said. 'I was just going to say that about the medulla.' The image she saw looked like a long dark brown tube. She might just as well have been looking at a Tootsie Roll. Hell Rohmer watched Irina, sunny with admiration, seething with forensic lust. Jessica and Byrne had worked with the two of them many times. Hell and Irina liked to have scientifically clueless detectives and other investigators look though microscopes. It validated them as criminalists.
'What tipped me was the ovoid structures,' Irina added.
'Every time,' Jessica said, stepping away from the microscope. 'So what are you saying? I mean, I understand it. Tell us for Kevin's benefit.'
'Well, this is not exactly my field,' Irina said. 'So I'm going to send this out. We should know something by tomorrow at the latest.'
Jessica handed Irina a card with her cellphone number on it. 'Call me the second you have it.'
'Will do,' Irina said. 'And our freaky killer better get some game.'
Irina smiled. Jessica saw her hand covertly brush up against Hell Rohmer's hand. 'We're about to make his life awfully uncomfortable.'
On the way out to the car Jessica thought about the lab and the curious creatures who toiled within. Physical evidence was, as they say, a silent witness to every misdeed, always present at crime scenes due to the simple phenomenon of transference. No individual can enter or leave any enclosed area without picking up or leaving behind innumerable items of physical evidence. But the evidence alone has little value. Only after it has been detected, collected, analyzed, interpreted and presented will it yield meaning and context.
As a rule, criminals have no idea who the people are who plug away in forensic labs all over the world and how dedicated they are to rooting out the truth. If they did know, they wouldn't be so cavalier about leaving at their crime scenes any one of the million skin cells or hundreds of hairs we shed every day, not to mention saliva, footprints, blood, or fibers from clothing.
As Jessica got into the car she also thought about how her job sometimes resembled an episode of The X-Files.
These samples are definitely not human.
Byrne parked across the street from the Mount Olive Cemetery. He had stopped by the main office, spoken to the night security officer. Considering what had happened there that day, he didn't need a trigger happy ex-PPD freaking out about the man standing in the middle of the graveyard.
He thought about the vision he had gotten when he had been here before. What did it all mean?
He tried to add up the hours of sleep he had missed in the past week, but couldn't. The weight of his exhaustion prevented him from making an accurate accounting.
Byrne laid his head back on the seat. Just for a moment. Just a moment of peace.
Sleep came quickly. In the dream he was in a vast concert hall, the only person sitting in the audience. Onstage was a full philharmonic orchestra. He looked around the elegant surroundings. The floor was slicked with blood. On each seat was a severed finger.
He jumped to his feet as the music swelled, ran up the aisle to the lobby. On one wall of the lobby were two words written in bright red blood: you know
Byrne ran from the hall, down the sidewalks, where everyone had the face of a victim he knew, a case he had investigated. He found his van in an otherwise empty parking lot. He jumped in, his heart racing fit to burst. He noticed the smell immediately. He turned around to find a decomposing body posed in the back, shaved and hairless, its eyes open, familiar eyes Byrne sat upright in the driver's seat, the perspiration slicking his body despite the chill in the air. Outside, the city of Philadelphia was pitch black and silent, the only sounds the occasional car trolling by. Around him the dead were still dead.
He got out of the van, breathing in deeply the cold night air.
He looked at his watch.
It was 2:52.
Wednesday, October 27
Lucy spent the morning on autopilot, her emotions racing between approach and avoidance. Neither of these were terms that she had ever used in relationship to her state of mind until she had started seeing psychologists. They had a different way of speaking, those people, a wholly separate dictionary. For instance, you didn't just recall something, you had declarative memory. Or when you applied simple logic to problems, and solved them, it was called fluid intelligence. And then there was her favorite. If you were the kind of person who defined yourself by your own thoughts or actions, you weren't just confident, or happy in your own skin. No, no, no. You had independent construals of self.
Lucy almost laughed. Her inside joke – on those rare occasions when she felt good enough to appreciate a joke, inside or out – was that she was just going through her construal cycle.
Regardless, on this day, in this place, Lucy was all but overcome by her new feelings. The craziest thing had been running into Detective Byrne the day before. She had been so hyper when she saw him that, even though she knew that she knew him, she didn't realize who he was. Until he smiled.
They had met at her regression-therapy sessions. He was the man in the group who had been dead for a whole minute. They'd gone for coffee once, shared their experiences. Well, Lucy had listened mostly, because she didn't really know what had happened to her. Yesterday he had given her his card and told her to call if she ever wanted to talk. She wondered if he could help her. She wondered if he would laugh at her suspicions of the man she thought she'd seen come out of Room 1208. No, he wouldn't laugh, but he would probably tell her she was imagining things.
As she worked she looked at her watch every five minutes, for the first time in a long while not really gauging her day by how many rooms she had completed, mentally recording the time she entered and left.
Each room attendant had their own section key, an electronic card similar to a guest key, that allowed them access to their rooms but not to other parts of the hotel. If an attendant said they entered a room at 9:08 and it was really 9:21, management could find it out in a second. A lot of dismissed attendants found out the hard way that computers never lie. The lock didn't say when you left, only when you entered.
Today all the rooms blended together, and Lucy had no idea how long it was taking her to finish each one.
He smelled like apples.
That could have been anything, though. There were a million plausible explanations for this. Lots of people wear dark overcoats. For gosh sake, even Detective Byrne wore a dark overcoat.
Lucy stood at the end of the hallway, near the elevators. She looked down the corridor, at the east wing. In this direction there were eight rooms. Rooms 1201 through 1208. Today she was able to swap this wing with a girl who worked on the seventh floor, promising to fix the girl's portable CD player in exchange for the favor. But it would only be for today. Lucy would have to enter Room 1208 tomorrow. She wasn't looking forward to it.
All room attendants got a fifteen-minute break in the morning. Lucy usually spent her time reading in the cafeteria or, if it was a nice day, she would run over to Rittenhouse Square for a full five minutes in the sun. It was amazing what even five minutes in sunlight could do for her mood. Today, she stepped into the small courtyard behind the hotel. She almost got lost in the cloud of cigarette smoke. You weren't supposed to smoke within fifty yards of the building, but no one ever listened and the rule had never been enforced.
When she rounded the corner at the back to the hotel she saw her friend Amanda sitting on a delivery pallet, eating a tangerine.
'Hey, girl,' Amanda said.
'Hi.' Lucy sat down next to Amanda. Amanda Cuaron was everything Lucy was not. Exotic, dark-eyed, a true Latin beauty, always flirting. Whenever Amanda was around Lucy felt like a rubber tulip.
'Hey, I forgot to ask, did you see that guy yesterday?' Amanda asked.
That guy was the Dreamweaver. Mr. Costa. Lucy wasn't sure how much she wanted to tell Amanda. Amanda was her friend and all, but Lucy had never shared secrets with her. She'd never shared her secrets with anyone. 'Yeah,' she said. 'I saw him.'
'How did it go?'
'It went okay.'
Amanda just stared at her – she was not going to get off the hook with such a brief explanation. 'Well? Was he weird? Did he wear a pointy hat and carry a wand?'
'Oh yeah,' Lucy said. 'And he had a long white beard. Didn't I mention the beard?'
Amanda smiled. 'Is he cute?'
Lucy snorted. 'Shut up. He's like a hundred years old.'
'Is he cute?'
Lucy just rolled her eyes. 'I'm going to see him again today.' Lucy hadn't realized that she'd made the decision to do this until this second.
Amanda smiled her lascivious smile. 'Mala chica.'
They both checked their watches at the same moment. They had another six minutes.
Amanda pointed to the wall next to the delivery bay. There was something carved into the stone. RL loves TJ.
'I wonder if they're still in love,' Amanda said.
Lucy doubted it. She didn't believe in true love. 'Well, it is written in stone.'
Amanda laughed. 'I think that was probably done back when this place was apartments.'
'When was this an apartment building?'
'I think up until maybe 1999. Something like that,' she said. 'I think it was kind of a famous place, too.'
'How so?' .'Well, mostly because of that little girl. You know about that, don't you?'
'What are you talking about?'
'I'm not a hundred percent sure what happened – you could ask Sergio. He'd definitely know.'
Sergio was an older guy who worked in maintenance. He had been with the building for a long time.
'But, from what I understand, a little girl got killed here,' Amanda added.
Lucy shuddered. 'What do you mean, killed? Like an accident or something?'
'No. Like killed killed.'
'What are you saying? She was murdered?'
'Yeah.' Amanda wiggled her fingers at Lucy, made spooky Halloween noises. 'They say her ghost walks these very halls.'
Amanda giggled. 'You're so easy.'
'How old was the girl?'
Amanda shrugged, peeled off another section of tangerine, offered it to Lucy. Lucy declined. 'Not sure. But not too old, though. Ten or eleven, maybe.'
'How did she… you know.'
'How did she die?' Amanda shrugged. 'No idea. But I don't think they ever caught the guy that did it.'
As creepy as Lucy already felt today, the feeling had just doubled.
'I think it's one of the cases this bunch of nut jobs who are staying here this week are investigating,' Amanda said. 'Or talking about investigating. God only knows what they do.'
Lucy was speechless for the moment. Amanda stood up, threw her tangerine peels in the nearby Dumpster.
'So, are we on?' Amanda asked.
At first Lucy didn't know what Amanda was talking about. Then she remembered. She had told Amanda that she would go out with her for a drink at Fluid, a dance club on Fourth Street, on Halloween Eve Night – always a crazy time in Philly, to say the least – and, according to Amanda, a ton of cute college guys always showed up. This year they were probably all going to be dressed up like Robert Pattinson.
'Yeah,' Lucy said. 'Why not?'
'Awesome. And you are definitely going to let me do something with your hair. We've got to babe you up, chica. Maybe get you laid.'
Amanda giggled. 'I'll be by your mansion around eight.'
Amanda walked back into the hotel but Lucy stayed put. She couldn't stop thinking about the little girl Amanda had mentioned. Murdered. At the place Lucy worked. She had to find out more about it, although she wasn't sure why. Maybe because there was a dead zone in her own life. Maybe it was because for the past nine years she had felt a dark kinship with all young girls who had been touched by evil. They were her sisters.
They say her ghost walks these very halls.
Thanks, Amanda, Lucy thought. Thanks a lot.
Doylestown was a quaint township of about eight thousand in Bucks County. The Ulrich Art Supply store was a standalone building, a converted ivy-veined coach house on North Main Street, across the road from the Mercer Square Shopping Center. The front windows held a display of paints, canvases, brushes, easels. Halloween decorations ringed the window and door.
On the way to Doylestown Jessica and Byrne decided not to approach the store in any official capacity. Because this was the only store within reach of the city that carried the paper used in these homicides, there was a chance that they might tip their hand by approaching the store as law-enforcement officers looking for information. If someone in the store was acquainted with the killer they might get on the phone the minute they left. If Plan A failed, they could always come in with guns and badges blazing.
They watched the store for a few minutes. There was a woman behind the counter, working on a small display rack. No one entered the store and they did not see anyone else working.
'Looks like you're up,' Jessica said.
'I thought you were the undercover queen.'
'I am,' Jessica said. 'But I think metrosexual is out of my range.'
'What did we say about that word?'
Byrne took a moment, scoping the terrain. 'Who am I again?'
Jessica gave it some thought. 'I'm thinking Bennett Strong.'
Byrne nodded. It was a good choice. Tough but suitably fey, given the venue. 'Where was the show?'
Jessica turned her iPhone so that Byrne could see it. She had searched the web on the way into Doylestown and found a recent print show in Philadelphia. She had also looked up the art supply store's website. There she found the owner's name. Alicia Webster.
Byrne pulled his badge from his belt, along with his weapon and his holster, put it all in the back seat. He took off his jacket.
'Want some hair gel?' Jessica asked.
Byrne just gave her a look.
Alicia Webster was in her mid to late thirties. She wore a beige knit cardigan and black corduroy slacks. Her eyeglasses hung around her neck on a rawhide lace.
She glanced up as Byrne entered the store accompanied by a ring of a bell. 'May I help you?' she asked. Pleasant smile, bright eyes.
Byrne proffered a business card. On it was simply a name – no phone number, no address, no email, no website. He had a stack of them in his briefcase. Ten different names. You never knew.
'My name is Bennett Strong,' he said. 'I am the owner of Strong Galleries, New York City.'
The woman's face lit up.
'You are Miss Webster?'
The woman looked surprised that he knew her name.
'I am.' She held up her left hand, wiggled her ring finger. 'But it's Mrs.'
Byrne put a hand to his heart. 'Mea culpa.' He smiled at her. 'Mrs. Of course.'
A blush. 'How can I help you, Mr. Strong?'
'I love your store, by the way. Did I see Kolinsky sables on the way in?' It was something Byrne had seen on the store's website. He knew that the woman carried the brushes.
'Yes,' she said. 'You know your brushes.'
'And now to the point. I recently attended the PortPhilio show in Philadelphia. Did you manage to make it to the affair?'
Say no, Byrne thought. Please say no.
'No. I wanted to, but I'm all alone here since my son went back to school. I couldn't get away.'
'It was fabulous.'
The door opened behind them, ringing the bell again. A woman entered the store. Alicia's eyes flicked over to the new customer, then back.
'Anyway, I met a man there, a printmaker, who recommended your shop. He showed me some of his work and it was fantastic.'
'I would really like to contact him, but I'm afraid I lost his card and I don't remember his name.'
'And he said he purchased supplies here?'
'He was from Doylestown?'
'I don't know.'
'What did the man look like?'
Shit, Byrne thought. He had no idea what to say. He didn't even know if it was a man. He aimed for the middle, culling from a standard profile. 'I'm terrible at these things. But I'd say he was thirty to forty. Medium height and weight. I'm not sure of his hair because he was wearing a ball cap.' This was as vague as Byrne could get. He smiled at Alicia. 'I'm a lot better with remembering women.'
Another blush. 'Well, that's not too much for me to go on.'
'Maybe this will help. During the course of our conversation he mentioned his printmaking technique, and said he was enamored of a certain brand of paper. An Italian paper. Quite expensive.'
'Do you remember the line?'
'I do not. But he showed me a sample and the watermark was Venus de Milo.'
Byrne snapped his fingers. 'That's it.'
The woman frowned. 'That's not an item we generally keep in stock. I've only sold a few dozen sheets in the past year or so.'
Alicia turned to her computer, tapped a few keys. In a moment a screen came up. Byrne could see the reflection in her glasses. It was a database program and she had found an entry. She nodded, perhaps remembering the man.
'I'm afraid I can't give you anyone's name. Our mailing list is confidential, of course.'
'If you'd like, I could take your information and have them get in touch with you.'
'That would be great.'
Just then there was a loud crash at the back of the store. Alicia spun around to see a woman at the rear, next to a toppled display rack of oil paints.
'Shoot!' the woman at the back exclaimed.
'Oh my,' Byrne said. 'Look, why don't you tend to this terribly clumsy woman and I'll stop back in a few minutes. I have to hit the ATM, anyway.'
'That would be fine.'
As Alicia walked to the rear of the store to help Jessica pick up the spilled merchandise, Byrne spun the LCD monitor to face him. His eyes scanned the screen. The problem was that he was not wearing his glasses. The customer's name was a little larger than the rest of the entry. He got that with no problem. It was a company called Marcato LLC.
Beneath that: Attention JP Novak. Byrne looked at the bottom. Philadelphia. In between, it was mostly a blur.
He spun the monitor back, turned on his heels, and left the store.
They pulled out of the parking lot and headed back to route
'Did we get it?'
'I got the name,' Byrne said. 'And a partial address.'
'A partial address?'
Byrne fell silent.
'You weren't wearing your glasses.'
Byrne plowed forward. He checked the notes that he'd scribbled after leaving the store. 'The paper was purchased by a company called Marcato LLC. Contact name is JP Novak. The address is in Philly. Something something something something Ashingdale Road. Or Arlington. I think the number was 8180 or 5150. Maybe 6160.'
Jessica shook her head. 'You know, those glasses do serve a purpose.'
'I don't see you wearing yours all the time.'
'Mind your own business, Mr. Strong. Now, drive the car and let me start sleuthing.'
On the way back to Philadelphia Jessica called in the name. There was no phone listing for a JP Novak, nor anyone with that name in PCIC with a criminal record. They found more than three dozen listings for Novaks with J as an initial: John, Joseph, Jerry, Jerszy, Jacob, Joshua.
She also looked up Marcato and did not find any company with that name, LLC or otherwise. She did find a definition of the word and found that it was Italian for marked, and when it was applied to music it meant performing the note with an 'attack' and a sustain of two-thirds of the original written length, followed by an audible counted rest.
According to one source the marcato sound was 'a rhythmic thrust followed by a decay of the sound.'
Who would name their company this? Jessica wondered.
When they returned to the Roundhouse they searched every database for a JP Novak, as well as for Philadelphia streets named Ashingdon or dozens of possible permutations. They asked everyone on the floor if they knew of any Philly streets or courts or lanes by that name or similar names. There were a few close matches but nothing exact.
After twenty minutes of strikeouts Jessica stood, began to peruse the large paper map on the wall. You could only look at a computer screen for so long before going six-eyed with fatigue. Somehow she put her finger on two possibilities.
'Look at this,' she said. 'There's a street in West Philly called Abingdon.'
Byrne shot to his feet. 'That's it.' 'There's also one called Ashingdale.' 'Shit.'
Josh Bontrager grabbed his coat. 'I'll take Ashingdale.' Jessica and Byrne headed to the door. 'Kevin?'
'Bring your glasses.'
The addresses on Abingdon Road stopped at 7000, so this eliminated the chance of the address being 8180. Jessica and Byrne drove to the far end of the street, worked back from 5150. This was a body shop called D amp; K Motor Cars. No one inside knew anyone named Novak, nor a company called Marcato LLC.
The address at 6160 was a gentrified apartment building called the Beau Rive, perhaps at one time a warehouse. The front had recently been stuccoed, and all four apartments in the front had leaded-glass bay windows.
Byrne pulled over, cut the engine.
'Hang on,' Jessica said.
She got out of the car, walked up the steps to the apartment building. She walked into the small lobby and looked at the mailboxes. There were six suites. She scanned the names. The second to last name, in apartment 204, was Joseph Paul Novak.
She tried the buzzer twice. No response.
Jessica walked out of the building, across the street. She got back in the car. 'There's a Joseph Novak in apartment 204. I buzzed. Nothing.'
Byrne checked his side mirror, then did a U-turn, pulling up on the opposite side of the street in front of a Thai takeout. They had not stopped for lunch and the aromas were enticing. He put the Taurus in park, cut the engine. 'Want to stake it out for a little while?'
'Sure,' Jessica said.
They watched the pedestrian traffic up and down Abingdon Road. After ten minutes or so Jessica got restless. She got out of the car, crossed the street, leaned against a light pole, took out her cell. She pretended to have a conversation. Cellphones were, hands down, the best surveillance prop ever invented.
Finally the door to the Beau Rive opened. The first person to walk out the building was a woman in her sixties, well-dressed and accessorized. When she reached the sidewalk she stopped, rummaged through her purse, then turned around in disgust, stormed back inside. She'd obviously forgotten something.
The second person to emerge was a man. He was black, in his late twenties, in a real hurry. He came out of the door buttoning a white chef's jacket. Jessica leaned back against the lamppost, called out:
No reaction. He didn't even acknowledge her. A few minutes later the woman reemerged and walked the other way down the street, a little more urgency to her stride. As a woman who forgot something at home every day, Jessica sympathized.
Jessica then crossed the street, leaned against the car next to Byrne's open window, went back to pretending to be on the phone. Ten long minutes later another man came out of the building.
'This is him,' Jessica said.
'How do you know?'
Jessica walked across the sidewalk, gave her hair a quick fluff. 'Is that Joseph? The man turned around. He was tall, broad-shouldered, in his mid-thirties. He had brown hair nearly to his shoulders, a fashionable one-day growth of beard. He wore a dark overcoat. His skin was alabaster pale.
'Do I know you?' he asked. His posture betrayed neither aggression nor retreat. Instead, he looked pleasantly curious.
Jessica continued toward him. 'We met last year. You're Joseph Novak, right?'
The man offered a half-smile but not one that fully committed himself to this conversation. 'I am. But I must confess I don't remember your name.'
'My name is Jessica Balzano.' She produced her ID, held it up. 'I just need to talk to you for a few moments.'
Joseph Novak looked at her badge, then back into her eyes. In this light his eyes were a pale blue, almost colorless. 'We've never met, have we?'
'No,' Jessica said. 'That was just a bold subterfuge on my part.'
The man smiled. 'Well played. But I can't imagine what it is I could tell you.' He looked over her shoulder. 'Or your partner.'
It was Jessica's turn to smile. She always had to remind herself that she and Byrne were not that hard to make as cops. 'It won't take a minute.'
Novak held up a #10 envelope. 'I just need to post this.' He pointed a half-block away, at a mailbox on the corner. He turned back to Jessica. 'I promise not to run.'
Jessica glanced at the envelope. It did not look like the paper found at the crime scenes. 'In that case, I promise not to chase you.'
Another smile. 'If you'll excuse me.'
Novak threw one more glance at Byrne, then turned on his heels and walked toward the mailbox. Byrne got out of the car, crossed the street.
'That was good,' he said.
Novak mailed the letter and, as promised, began to walk back up the block. His size and bearing made for a striking silhouette in the afternoon light.
'Why don't you call Josh, tell him where we are?' Byrne said.
Jessica got on her cell, filled Bontrager in. She closed her phone just as Novak returned to the steps in front of his apartment building. Novak turned his attention to Byrne.
'I am Joseph Novak.'
'Kevin Byrne,' Byrne said.
'How can I help?' Novak asked.
Jessica pointed at the door to Beau Rive. 'Do you think we could chat inside? As I said, we won't take up too much of your time.'
Novak did not answer right away. When he saw that these two police officers were not about to leave, he relented. He gestured to the door. 'Please.'
At the rear of the building, Joseph Novak's apartment was a large two-bedroom flat with ten-foot ceilings and an open floor plan. The furniture was modern, mostly brushed aluminum and leather. Against one wall, nearly floor-to-ceiling, were CDs in custom-made birch shelves. There had to be a thousand of them. Jessica noticed that they were sectioned off by category: Classical, Electronica, New Age, Jazz. There were also subcategories by composer, artist, era. Brahms, Beethoven, Bach, Enya, Parker, Mingus, Tyner, Mulligan, Chemical Brothers. The effect of sunlight streaming through the windows, playing off the crystal cases in rainbow hues, was dizzying.
Upon entering the apartment Novak immediately crossed the room to the large desk at the other side and lowered the screen on his laptop, clicked it shut.
'We won't take up too much of your time,' Byrne said.
'Not at all,' Novak replied. 'Whatever I can do to help.'
'Do you know why we're here, Mr. Novak?' Byrne asked.
Novak sat at the desk, crossed his long legs. 'I'm afraid I do not.'
Byrne placed a sheet with six photographs on the desk in front of Novak. Kenneth Beckman's picture was in the upper right-hand corner. They decided to start this way, inquiring about Beckman as if they were looking for a witness.
Jessica watched Novak closely as his gaze fell on the photo lineup. If the man instantly recognized Beckman there was no indication.
'Do you recognize any of these people?' Byrne asked.
Novak gave the process a few seconds. 'No,' he said. 'Sorry.'
'No problem.' Byrne left the photo array on the desk. He leaned against the wall near the large window, looking around the room, especially at the rack of complicated-looking electronic equipment and what might have been a sound mixing board.
'May I ask what it is that you do for a living?' Byrne asked.
'I am a recording engineer by trade,' Novak said. 'But I keep my hand in with all aspects of the music world. I review for jazz and classical publications.'
'Interesting,' Byrne said. 'I'm a fan of classic blues, myself.'
Novak smiled. 'I have a small but rather interesting collection of old blues. My treasure is the box set of 78s with early recordings of Mary Johnson, Scrapper Blackwell and Kokomo Arnold.'
'Sweet. Any Roosevelt Sykes?'
Jessica stepped forward. In a situation like this, she and her partner liked to tag-team the person they were interviewing. If you split the person's attention it gave your partner the opportunity to look around, checking the small details of the room. One wall had a series of shelves with objets d'art on it. Small sculptures, Maori carvings, as well as a unique stainless steel bracelet with a single garnet stone inlaid.
Jessica turned her attention back to the CDs. 'This is quite an impressive collection of music you have here,' Jessica said.
'Thank you,' Novak said. 'I've been at it for quite a while. But I did not purchase most of them. Receiving free and promotional CDs for review is one of the perks of being a music critic.'
'What's the downside?'
'Listening to terrible music.'
Jessica scanned the wall. 'So, from all of this music, do you have a favorite composer?'
Novak smiled again. 'I imagine that is like asking an Eskimo if he has a favorite snowflake. If pressed, for me there is Johann Sebastian Bach, and then there is everyone else.'
'I'm sorry to impose, but do you think I might use your restroom?' Jessica asked.
This was another old ploy for investigators. It gave you the opportunity to see a little more of a person's dwelling while they were talking with your partner. Not to mention the opportunity to check out their medicine cabinet and perhaps discover what meds they were taking. Someone's medications could tell you a lot about them. Plus, it was a hard thing for people to say no to.
Novak hesitated. His stare shifted to the hallway, then back. The question hung in the air.
'Yes, of course,' he said finally. 'The second door on your right.'
Jessica walked down the hallway. The kitchen was on the left, the bathroom on the right. At the end of the hall was the bedroom, its door slightly ajar.
Jessica stepped into the bathroom. It was spotless. On one wall was a large print, a black and white photograph of a man conducting an orchestra. The man was dark-haired, darkly handsome. He wore white tie and tails. Jessica looked at the caption: riccardo muti, 1986. Muti was the Italian conductor who had replaced Eugene Ormandy as the musical director of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1980.
Jessica peeked into the bamboo wastebasket to the right of the toilet. Empty. She opened the medicine cabinet gently. Gently, because she had once opened a medicine cabinet in a similar situation, without thinking, only to have a few bottles crash loudly into the sink.
In the cabinet were an array of skincare products. No meds. If Joseph Novak took any medications, he did not keep them in his bathroom.
When she had exhausted her search, Jessica flushed the toilet. She washed her hands anyway, to keep up the illusion, and because it was a deeply ingrained habit.
She stepped out of the bathroom, listened. Byrne and Novak were still talking. She stepped to her right, inched open the bedroom door. The bedroom continued the rather industrial look of the apartment. There was a king-size platform bed, a pair of night stands bearing stainless steel lamps with rectangular linen shades.
But it wasn't the furnishings that nearly took Jessica's breath away. The entire room was covered in paper. She had to look closely to believe what she was seeing. At first she thought it might have been some kind of creative wallpaper. It was not. What she'd at first thought was wall-covering was really hundreds and hundreds of photographs, articles, magazine covers, newspaper clippings, drawings. All of them seemed to be about one subject. Murder.
Her eyes were drawn to a large corkboard. To it were pinned a number of tabloid pages. The page on top stopped her cold. It was a tear sheet from the sleazy local newspaper The Report. The headline read:
Pummeled in Pennsport!
The article was about a brutal murder in 2002. March 21, 2002 to be exact.
The photograph was of a smiling Antoinette Chan.
Jessica looked back down the hall, saw no one coming. She took her iPhone out of her pocket, stepped fully into the bedroom, and began to photograph the walls, hoping there was enough light. Then she walked back down the hall. She stepped into the living room, held up her phone.
Both Byrne and Novak turned to look at her.
'I'm sorry to interrupt, but there's a call for you.'
Byrne got up, walked across the living room, took a few steps down the hall. Jessica gestured to the opened bedroom door. Byrne stepped to the opening, took in the room. He stepped back.
Their gazes met in silent understanding. Byrne flicked a glance toward the front door. She would take the door. He would take Novak.
They were out of the living room for just a few seconds, but it was long enough. They heard a loud noise. When they returned, the chair in front of the desk was on its back. Novak was gone.
'Fuck,' Byrne yelled.
He went for the window and the fire escape beyond. Jessica ran to the door.
She peeked out into the hallway. It was not that long – there were only four apartments on this floor – and there were stairs at only one end. She hurried over to the elevator. Silence. Novak would not have had time to call the elevator, and make it even one floor. She ran down to the stairs, eased open the door, her hand on the butt of her weapon.
The stairwell was empty.
Jessica moved silently down the stairs, her weapon held out front, low. She turned a corner, carried on circling downward, her ears tuned to the sounds around her. Traffic outside, television noise coming from an apartment on the first floor. No footsteps.
She had to make a decision when she came to the first-floor landing. Continue on to the basement or check the first floor? She opted for the first floor. She eased open the door. It led to a short hallway. The lobby was straight ahead. She still-hunted down the hall. When she came to the lobby she saw Joseph Novak sitting uneasily on one of the chairs. His right foot was tapping nervously.
Jessica stepped fully into the lobby and was just about to raise her weapon when she sensed another presence. She looked over. It was Josh Bontrager. He was leaning against the front door, a hoagie in one hand, his weapon in the other. He smiled, winked at Jessica just as Byrne came barreling into view in front of the building.
Byrne entered the lobby, caught his breath. Josh Bontrager ate his sandwich. Jessica stepped forward, holstered her weapon, and took Joseph Novak into custody.
Lucy found herself standing in front of the door, the small red door with the tarnished golden key on it. She didn't even remember walking to Cherry Street. All she remembered was clocking out for lunch and then, magically, there she was.
Lucy walked down the hallway. It was a lot quieter than it had been the day before, or maybe that was because it was so noisy inside her head.
In a few moments she was in front of the Dreamweaver's door. This time it was closed. She knocked, waited. She heard music coming from inside, some kind of classical music. She didn't know anything about classical music. She knocked again. The music stopped. Then she heard some light footsteps. The door opened.
She was instantly taken aback by his appearance. She might have even made some kind of involuntary noise. Mr. Costa seemed younger. Not younger as in he looked like a younger man, but more animated, quicker in his movements. His hair was combed, parted in a perfectly straight line on the right side. He wore what looked like a fresh white shirt. His shoes were newly polished. He smelled of good soap.
Lucy found herself trembling as she walked into his room. She turned slightly as she passed through the doorway, but found that the photograph – the one she was certain was the one of her house when she'd been growing up, the picture that was hanging just above the light switch – had been replaced with a different photograph, this one of a valley full of flowers and a small cabin with smoke curling out of the chimney.
Had she imagined it?
Mr. Costa closed the door behind her. They walked together into the front room.
If the man looked more youthful, his place also looked improved. He had straightened it up a little. He had even dusted.
Mr. Costa gestured to the green chair. Lucy took off her coat, sat down.
'I trust you slept well?' he asked.
'Not really,' Lucy said. 'I'm not sure I slept at all.'
'I think maybe you were right.'
'In what way?'
Lucy put down her purse, arranged herself in the chair. It too seemed different. Larger, somehow. She felt like a little kid sitting in it, or maybe Alice through the looking glass. 'When you said I may have opened a door yesterday. I think maybe I did.'
Mr. Costa smiled. 'This is wonderful news. What leads you to think this?'
On the way over, Lucy had debated whether or not to tell Mr. Costa about the man in the hotel. She decided to wait until after this session, to wait and see what, if anything, she got out of it. 'I'm not sure,' she said. 'It's just a feeling.'
The look on Mr. Costa's face indicated that he might not have believed her completely, but that it was okay. Lucy had the feeling that a lot of people said things like this to him – half-truths about their lives, their feelings.
'Are you comfortable?' he asked.
As comfortable as I have ever been, Lucy thought. For some reason.
'Yes,' she said. 'I'm fine.'
'Did you bring the notepad with you? The hotel notepad?'
Lucy reached into her bag, took out the notepad. She handed it to Mr. Costa but he put out his hands, palms toward her. 'No, this is for you to write on. Do you have a pen?'
'No,' Lucy said. 'Sorry.'
Mr. Costa reached into his coat pocket, took out a beautiful old fountain pen, uncapped it, handed it to Lucy. 'You will write something on the pad a little later.'
'Are you ready to begin our session?'
'Now, I want you to close your eyes, and listen to the sound of my voice.'
Lucy was not floating above the town this time. This time she was sitting. No, she was kneeling, sort of. She was on her knees but leaning back on her heels. And she was afraid.
Where are you?
I'm in the dark. I have a blindfold on.
Do you know where you are?
Are you inside or outside?
I'm inside. Inside a building.
Is the room large or small?
Small. It feels like a closet or something.
Where is the man?
I don't know.
Has he hurt you in any way?
I don't think so.
Are you alone?
Yes. But I met someone else. A girl.
How old is she?
She's my age.
What can you see?
When I take off the blindfold I see a keyhole in the door. I can see out of the keyhole. There's a table next to the sofa. There's something on it.
What is on the table?
It's shiny. It's kind of oval-shaped.
What is it? What is the shiny object?
It's a badge. A policeman's badge.
What are you wearing?
A dress. He put a dress on me.
What kind of dress?
A spangly dress. A grown-up dress. And he calls me Eve.
Eve? Who is Eve? Someone you know?
No. He means Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eve who was tempted by the apple.
Can you see his face?
No. Not yet. But I can see his hand. He wears a big ring.
What kind of ring?
It looks like a snake. It looks like a ring in the shape of a snake.
Suddenly, in her dream world, Lucy Doucette felt herself falling. She sensed that someone was trying to save her. Someone or something.
No. It was the darkness itself. She reached out – a ring in the shape of a snake… the snake in the Garden of Eden -
– and let the darkness take her.
Joseph Novak sat in Interview A, one of the two cramped and oppressive interrogation rooms at the homicide unit. They did not have much, and they probably wouldn't have been able to bring him in without his consent, but he'd run. People don't realize that once you run from the police it opens a big can of possibilities. It immediately establishes a hostile relationship. What might once have been a conversation that moved gently from casual to mild inquisitiveness now began with doubt and suspicion.
Even if you had to cut people loose, sometimes you got lucky. A lot of it had to do with the nature of the case itself, the heat generated not only within the department and the district attorney's office but also with the public. If a case broke open in the public consciousness, pressure was brought to bear on law enforcement to produce results, therefore detectives put the pressure on DAs, who worked a little harder on judges, and as a result search warrants and body warrants were granted with a little more leeway. When you searched a house or car you never knew what the search would produce. Warrants were the handmaidens of criminal charges, even when you had no idea what you were looking for.
They let Novak simmer in Interview A for a few minutes. Interview A at the unit didn't look anything like the interrogation rooms on TV. On TV the rooms had soft gray walls, dramatic lighting, clean carpeting, expensive furnishings, and were usually the size of an average living room. In reality, at least in Philly homicide, the real room was about six by eight, not much bigger than your average jail cell – which was not an accident of design.
There were no windows, just the two-way mirror, which was not much bigger than a magazine. Then there were the bright fluorescent lights overhead, the bolted-down chairs, and the short-legged table. No matter how often the room was cleaned, or even painted, it held onto the faint odors of urine and bleach. All in all, it was the Philadelphia equivalent of a visit to George Orwell's Room 101. Or so the Homicide Unit hoped.
If you had claustrophobia issues and you heard that door close, the bolt slide on the other side, you started to come apart. More than one tough guy had blurted a confession after an hour or two inside Hotel Homicide.
Jessica sat across from Novak. Byrne stood, leaning against the wall next to the observation window. Novak sat dispassionately in the bolted- down chair, his face void of all expression.
Byrne put the large file box on the table. It was almost empty but Novak didn't need to know that. Novak glanced at the box, then turned his attention back to Byrne.
'Now, where were we?' Byrne said.
Novak said nothing.
'We were having such a nice conversation. Why did you run?'
Novak still said nothing.
'Where were you heading?'
Byrne let the questions float for a few moments, then reached out his hand. Jessica handed him her iPhone. Byrne turned the screen toward Novak and began to scroll through the series of pictures Jessica had taken of Novak's bedroom.
Novak scanned the photos, remained impassive.
'This is quite an interesting collage,' Byrne said.
Novak took a moment. 'Is it common practice for the police to be invited into someone's home, then to take covert photographs?'
'Common?' Byrne asked. 'No, I don't suppose it is.'
'I'm sure there are a number of privacy laws that have been violated here. My attorneys will have a lot of fun with this. Search and seizure, for one.'
'It's my recollection that you invited us into your home, Mr. Novak.' Byrne turned to Jessica. 'Is that how you remember it, detective?'
'There were no jackbooted thugs kicking in your door, no one rappelling down the side of your building and smashing in your windows. Just three people talking, two of whom were invited in.' Byrne tapped the photos on the cellphone screen. 'All of this was in plain view.'
Novak didn't react.
'Anything you'd like to share with us?' Byrne asked.
'Such as why you have a room dedicated to the history of homicide in the City of Brotherly Love?'
Novak hesitated. 'It's research. I am a fan of true crime stories.'
'As you might imagine, so am I,' Byrne said. He indicated one of the photos. 'I remember many of these. In fact, I worked some of the cases.'
Novak said nothing.
Byrne tapped the iPhone screen, selecting another photograph. This one displayed a section of the room devoted to the Antoinette Chan case. It was a collage of clippings from the original stories in the Inquirer, Daily News and the tabloid Report, as well as from follow-up stories when Kenneth Beckman had been brought in for questioning.
'I see you are following the Antoinette Chan case,' Byrne said.
Novak crossed his hands in his lap, began to rub a finger over his left fist. A classic self-touch gesture. They were getting into a discomfort zone. 'It is an interesting case. One of many. I have research going back one hundred years. I'm sure you'll agree, this city has no shortage of crimes against persons.'
Byrne held up his hands, surrendering the point. 'You'll get no argument here,' he said. 'But let's talk about current cases first, okay?'
'What did you find interesting about the Chan case?' Byrne asked.
Novak leaned back in his chair, looked down, breaking eye contact with Byrne. A disconnect. 'It was particularly brutal, I thought. The weapon used was a claw hammer, if I remember correctly.'
'It seems an intimate act, using such a weapon,' Novak said, looking up briefly, then quickly away. 'A lot of passion.'
'Do you know a man named Kenneth Beckman?' Byrne asked.
The answer came way too fast. As soon as it left his lips, Jessica saw that Novak knew it was the wrong move.
'But you went to grade school with him,' Byrne said. 'Little Kenny was in your class from second through sixth grades.'
'No,' Byrne said. 'At least, I don't think he was. The point is, based on your quick answer he might have been someone you knew, yet you said no without even giving it a moment's thought. Why was that?'
Novak shifted in his seat. 'This man you're asking me about – I take it he was in the photo lineup you showed me at my apartment?'
'I don't know anyone by that name.'
Byrne reached into the box, slid the photo lineup across the table. Novak looked at it, his eyes carefully roaming across the six faces. This was clearly for show. He shook his head.
Byrne jabbed the photo on the iPhone screen, enlarging it. It was a news clipping of the Antoinette Chan case. 'You said you were doing research. What kind of research?'
'I'm writing an opera.'
'Yes,' Novak said. He shifted his weight again in what Jessica knew to be an uncomfortable steel chair. 'It is an epic story of crime and punishment in this city. It covers more than a hundred years. What you are looking at here is my research.'
'Some of your research into the Antoinette Chan case named Kenneth Beckman as a suspect.'
Novak hesitated. 'I can't remember every person's name. Real names are not important to the theme of my work.'
'What is the theme of your work?'
'Crime, punishment, guilt, redemption.'
'Kenneth Beckman is dead.'
Nothing. No reaction.
'He was murdered,' Byrne continued. 'His body was found at the same crime scene where Antoinette Chan was found.'
Novak remained silent.
'Hell of a twist, no?' Byrne said. 'I'm seeing that as the end of the first act.'
Novak looked up, a smug look on his face. It was not the look of someone with nothing to hide but rather of one who has very carefully hidden everything.
'If he was involved in the murder of Antoinette Chan, I might make reference to karma, fate, all that. None of it has anything to do with me.'
'So the name Kenneth Beckman means nothing to you?'
'What about the name Sharon Beckman?'
'Is that his wife?'
Byrne just stared.
Novak fashioned a thin smile, shook his head. 'Is this the part where you say "Did I say wife? I didn't say wife. How did you know it wasn't his daughter or sister?" Is this where you say these things, detective?' Novak clasped his hands in his lap. 'I saw Sleuth. The original film, that is. The one with-'
'Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.'
This time Novak's look said touche.
'You still haven't answered my question,' Byrne said.
Novak stared at the floor.
'Mr. Novak? Does the name Sharon Beckman mean anything to you?'
Novak looked up. 'No.'
Byrne let the exchange settle for a few moments. Then he removed the clear plastic evidence bag containing the sample of Atriana paper.
'Do you recognize this?' Byrne asked.
Novak took the evidence bag from Byrne, held it up to the fluorescent light. The edge of the distinctive watermark was clear.
'Where do you recognize it from?'
'I'm familiar with the line. It's called Atriana.'
'What is Marcato LLC?'
Pause. 'It's a publishing company.'
Byrne nodded. 'And you use this paper?'
'Yes,' Novak said. 'I use the paper to bind special editions.'
'Where would I find a copy of one of these editions?'
'They are all over the world.'
'When was the last time you purchased this paper?' Byrne asked.
'I don't recall.'
'If we search your apartment will we find this paper? Maybe cut into five-inch-wide strips?'
'No,' Novak said. 'All the paper I had was stolen. Someone broke into my house.'
'Oh yeah? When was this?'
'Six months ago.'
'Did you report it to the police?'
Novak was certainly smart enough to know that they would look this up. He probably would not have said this if it weren't true. 'What else was taken?'
'A watch, an MP3 player.'
'And paper,' Byrne added.
Byrne stared at the man for a few moments, as if commiserating with him over the strange state of the world. 'Well, I was at your place this morning, and I have to say that if I had broken in I would've found a few more items of value than just a wristwatch, a Nano, and some paper. Some of your audio equipment would go for more than a few bucks on the corner, don't you think? Pioneer Elite, Mcintosh. This is serious jelly.'
'I didn't have all that equipment then.'
'Ah, okay,' Byrne said. 'I'm sure you still have the receipts from when you purchased the equipment, yes? We may want to look at them.'
Novak remained stone-faced. 'I could probably find them.'
'Great,' Byrne said. 'That would help a lot.'
Jessica excused herself, stepped out of the interview room. She got on the phone to West Division detectives, made her request. A few minutes later she got a fax of the incident report. Novak was telling the truth. At least about the break-in. She stepped back into the interview room, handed the fax to Byrne. He read it, looked at Novak.
'It appears you were telling the truth,' Byrne said.
Byrne put the fax into the binder, closed it. 'Yet you know what I find odd?'
'What is that?'
'With all your meticulous research into the Antoinette Chan case, you do not remember the name Kenneth Beckman. His name was in the papers – on television, too.'
Novak shrugged. 'I must have missed it.'
'You can see why we might be interested here, Mr. Novak.' Byrne held up the bag with the paper sample. 'Here is an item belonging to you, and it was found at the scene of a homicide.'
'It was an item stolen from me,' Novak said. 'And while the injustice that was done to me pales in comparison to what was done to Mr. Beckman I am just as much a victim in this as he.'
Byrne took it all in, waited a few moments. 'Sounds positively operatic.'
For a few moments Novak said nothing. Then, almost on cue: 'I believe we have reached the point where I should contact my attorney.
Among other things, I'm sure he will be interested in the photographs you have of my personal and private property, and how they were obtained.'
Byrne looked at Jessica. She held up her iPhone so that Novak could see the screen. She tapped a few icons and a moment later they all watched the progress bar move left to right. The images had been deleted. Byrne looked back at Novak.
'What photographs?' Byrne asked.
The two men stared at each other for a few seconds.
'We're almost done here,' Byrne finally said. 'If you'll excuse us for a moment.'
Byrne stepped out of the room, closed the door, slid home the bolt. He bumped a fist with Jessica. They had, of course, printed the images from her iPhone before starting the interview. In addition, while holding up her iPhone in the interview room, she had also taken Joseph Novak's picture.
They met with Dana Westbrook in the coffee room. They watched Novak on the monitor.
'Unfortunately, this is not enough to hold him or get a search warrant,' Westbrook said.
'We have to consider his collage of murder stories, boss.'
'Not against the law last time I checked. If it was, I might be in jail myself. Last night I watched a double feature of Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs.'' Westbrook checked her watch. They had to be careful about how long they kept Novak. They would soon have to charge him or let him go. They'd all had a refresher course in this recently with the Eduardo Robles fiasco. 'Plus, none of the snapshots would be admissible. No probable cause, and how they were obtained would certainly be explored by any defense attorney.'
Jessica looked back into the room. Novak had not moved a muscle. He sat with his eyes closed, his long legs crossed in front of him.
'Can we put him under surveillance?' Jessica asked.
Westbrook walked back to her office, returned. She had looked at the duty roster. 'I don't have a single warm body available. There may be someone on last-out tonight. I'll talk to the watch commander and see what I can do.'
Anything could happen between now and then, Jessica thought. Still, it was what it was.
'Cut him loose,' Westbrook said.
A few minutes later Jessica and Byrne stood in the duty room, watching Novak saunter toward the hallway that led to the elevators.
Before Novak rounded the corner he stopped, as if he'd forgotten something. A few seconds later he spun on his heels, walked briskly back, heading directly for Jessica and Byrne.
What the hell is this? Jessica wondered.
As Novak approached, Byrne watched the man's hands. It was a habit he'd acquired as a rookie and he'd never forgotten it. Watch the hands, watch the man.
Novak stopped in front of them. He did not look at Jessica, just at Byrne.
'I just wanted to say I harbor no hard feelings,' Novak said.
This isn't over, Byrne thought. You might change your mind about that.
Novak extended his hand.
Byrne had learned a lesson from his father many years earlier, and that was never to refuse to shake a man's hand, even if you think he is the most despicable person on earth. The reason, Paddy Byrne explained to his young son, was that if at some point in the future you needed to take that man down, he would never see you coming.
Byrne reached out.
The two men touched, and Byrne saw…
… the house bathed in darkness, light coming in the high windows, milk of an autumn moon painting everything in a sulfurous blue.
Four people here. Music plays in the background. Lilting, familiar music, soon buoyed by screams of terror and agony. Now the smell of blood in the air. Blood and jasmine.
At midnight three people stand over a dead body, blood spreading on the white tile, glossy crimson clouds reflecting faces that…
… Byrne could not see. Not yet. He held Joseph Novak's hand for an uncomfortable second too long. The gesture was not lost on Novak, who turned quickly and walked out of the duty room.
Byrne had one question circling the disturbing vision in his mind, one question to which he did not really want the answer.
Was this Joseph Novak's memory, or my own?
They met in the boss's office. In the room, besides Dana Westbrook, were Russell Diaz, Nicci Malone, Nick Palladino, Josh Bontrager and Dennis Stansfield.
Byrne drew two triangles on the white board. On the first triangle he wrote a name at the top. Antoinette Chan. At the bottom left he wrote Kenneth Beckman. Bottom right, Sharon Beckman.
'Let's start with Antoinette Chan,' Byrne said. 'Let's say for the sake of argument that Beckman killed her. And let's say that Sharon Beckman was his accomplice, in that she set fire to their house to destroy any evidence. Kenneth Beckman's body was found at the original Chan crime scene. Sharon Beckman's was found on Antoinette Chan's grave. Killer, accomplice and victim, all joined in this triangle, each point completed.'
Byrne moved over to the second triangle. At the top he put a question mark. At the lower left he wrote John Doe. At the lower right, another question mark.
'Now, if our bad boy is some kind of vigilante, righting old wrongs, and his MO is to take out the lead suspect in an unsolved homicide and leave the body at the original crime scene, then move on to an accomplice and dump that body on the grave of the original victim, I think we can extrapolate a bit here.'
Byrne pointed at the bottom left of the second triangle.
'Because our John Doe was found on the street, we can assume that he was someone who our guy believes was responsible for a homicide that took place at that location. Who the victim was, and who the accomplice was, we won't know until we track down the original crime. We have to start here. Unless we can turn up a witness, it's the only move.'
Byrne turned to Nicci. 'Nothing on the John Doe's prints yet?'
Nicci shook her head. 'The guy was a crackhead. His fingers are so burned we couldn't get a good print. Still working on it, though.'
Byrne nodded. 'Okay, then we'll have to find a homicide committed at the corner of Second and Poplar.'
There were audible moans around the room. This was going to be a paper chase.
Six detectives pored over homicide binders for cases from the past thirty years. Unfortunately, there was no way to search the electronic databases based on where a homicide had been committed, or by status. It all had to be done by hand. It was tedious work, having to read each file. Not all of them had been filled out properly or even legibly. It was almost a peer review of the detectives who had worked in the unit over the past three decades.
Jessica flipped through the books covering 2003 to 2007. Case after case her eyes jumped from the name of the victim to the date, to the crime-scene location. Case after case took her on a grotesque tour of her city, its crimes of violence, its victims and perpetrators. It occurred to her more than once that she had been to virtually all these places, many times, often with her family as a child, or with Sophie and Vincent, blissfully unaware that someone in her city's past had been murdered there.
Every so often Jessica got up and fetched herself a fresh cup of coffee, hoping to keep on mission. The names and addresses all started to blend together, and the danger of finding herself daydreaming carried with it the hazard that she would have no idea how long she had been drifting and therefore no idea how far she needed to go back.
Fresh cup, a quick stretch, and back at it. Mid-2004. The page on which she had stopped told a charming little tale of a man who had shot his wife eleven times for having an affair with the UPS man. Jessica wondered if the guy delivered.
You're getting loopy, Jess.
She flipped a page.
'Here it is!' she shouted, almost before she knew it.
The other five detectives got up, all but ran over to her.
'June 21, 2004. DOA found in a Dumpster near Second and Poplar. Victim's name was Marcellus Palmer.'
A quick scan of the page told them the basics. Marcellus Palmer had been indigent, forty-one years old. He was found bludgeoned to death, his pockets turned inside out, his shoes missing. Jessica made a mental note, as she assumed Byrne did as well, that the COD was the same as for Antoinette Chan. Bludgeoned. Perhaps the connection was there.
They would have to go to Record Storage to get the full file, but they had made a start.
Jessica looked at the photo clipped to the summary. The new crime scene was literally a few feet from where Palmer's body had been found. It was one of Kevin Byrne's old stomping grounds as a patrolman.
'What's the status?' Bontrager asked.
'Open case,' Jessica said.
'The main suspect, also homeless, was a man named Preston Braswell, thirty-one at the time. Never charged.'
Nicci Malone sat down at a computer terminal, typed in the name. A few seconds later she had a hit. And a picture. 'That's him. Preston Braswell is our John Doe.'
The other detectives crowded around the terminal. The photograph on the screen was that of a younger, cleaner version of the John Doe. A positive match.
They now had two separate cases where the original suspect in a homicide case was found murdered and had been dumped in the precise same spot as the original homicide. One of the cases had the accomplice dumped on the grave site of the original victim. They had every reason to believe it was about to happen again. If it hadn't happened already.
Nicci sprang to her feet. Dino helped her with her coat, put on his own. 'We're off to Record Storage,' Dino said. 'Stand by.'
As Nicci and Dino left, Jessica and Byrne returned to the white board. Byrne erased the question mark at the top of the triangle on the right, then replaced it with the name Marcellus Palmer. He then erased the question mark at the lower left, replaced it with the name Preston Braswell.
Jessica took a step back, looked at the growing mountain of evidence connected with these three cases. There were three binders on the desk, each with a thickening group of folders within. She glanced at Byrne.
He was staring at something else.
He was staring at the final question mark on the board.
Twenty minutes later they got a call from Nicci Malone. She had the box of files on the 2004 murder of Marcellus Palmer. She was just about to fax over the suspect and witness list. Jessica put the phone on speaker.
'How bad is it?' Jessica asked.
'Put on your Nikes. The initial list has seventy-one names.'
'Yeah. The homeless are a social group,' Nicci said. 'But it looks like there were four men besides Preston Braswell who we liked more than the others. They were all questioned and released. I think we should try to track them down first.'
Before our killer does, Jessica thought.
A few minutes later they received the fax with the four names. Jessica found them all in the system and printed off what information they had on the men, including the most recent photographs.
Because there was no information on where Marcellus Palmer was buried they would have to start on the street.
For years, and with no small sense of irony, many homeless had huddled in the park directly across from the police administration building, in what is known as Franklin Square. In general, the homeless congregate where they are fed. Not much had changed in the past twenty-five years.
The detectives divvied up the names and photographs of the four men, as well as the locations of the shelters. They would work these interviews solo, as there were too many places to visit in teams, and time was short.
Jessica would take Old City.
The area beneath the Ben Franklin Bridge, at the interchange with 1-95, had long been a refuge for Philadelphia's homeless. For years the police referred to it as The Condos. Jessica parked, found a break in the chain-link fence, made her way beneath the overpass. There were a few dozen people congregated there. Stacked against the fence were stuffed cardboard boxes, bursting plastic bags. Nearby was a stroller with only three wheels. Cups, bottles, milk cartons, fast-food trash. No aluminum cans, of course. Cans were currency.
There were ten or twelve people on the north side of the encampment, mostly men. They glanced up at Jessica, not reacting in any way. Two reasons. One, she was a woman. Two, even though she was clearly a police officer, or at least a representative of the system, she was not coming in all guns blazing, with the obvious intention of uprooting them.
There were three distinct camps, with a few men off on their own. Jessica approached the first group, showed them the photographs. No one admitted recognizing anyone. The same with the second and third groups of men.
As Jessica walked away from the third group, one of the men called out to her. Jessica turned around. It was one of the older guys. He was lying on a thick bed of cardboard.
'Say, darling, you ever been with a homeless man?' He smiled his keyboard grin, broke into a phlegmy cough. The other two men in his posse chuckled. 'Guaranteed to change your life. You interested?'
'Sure,' Jessica said. 'All you have to do is take a shower and get a job.'
The man looked shocked. He got back under his blanket, turned on his side. 'You ain't all that.''
Jessica smiled, made her way back around the camp, asking the same questions, receiving nothing. The last man pointed to a man on the other side of the embankment, someone Jessica hadn't noticed before. As she approached she saw that the man – who was surrounded by carefully placed trash bags – had his legs covered with what appeared to be a new blanket. As Jessica got closer she saw that it still had its price tag.
The man was propped against the fence, reading a paperback. Its cover was missing but Jessica could read the spine. Great Expectations.
'Excuse me. Sir?'
He looked up. He was black, somewhere between fifty and seventy. He wore a tattered brown corduroy blazer and a yellowed shirt. His tie, like the blanket, looked new. Jessica wondered if there was a price tag on that, too. His eyes were bright and intelligent.
'May I ask your name?'
Jessica believed the Abraham part. 'Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?' Jessica held up her badge. The man scanned it.
'Not at all.'
Jessica held up three of the photographs. 'Do you know any of these men?'
Coltrane scanned the pictures. 'I do not. Are they men of leisure, such as myself?'
Abraham Coltrane nodded. Jessica held up the final picture, a photograph of the fourth man believed to have been involved with the
2004 murder of Marcellus Palmer. The man's name was Tyvander Alice. 'What about this man?'
Coltrane looked again. This time Jessica saw the slightest flicker of recognition. 'Again,' he said. 'My regrets.'
'This picture was taken a few years ago.'
'I remember everyone I have ever met, madam.'
She believed he did, which was why she didn't believe the part about him not knowing Tyvander Alice. She took out a five-dollar bill, making sure that the man saw it.
'Nice blanket,' she said.
Jessica lifted the price tag. 'You have a receipt for this, Mr. Coltrane?'
'It was a gift from one of my many admirers.'
'They gave you a gift with the price tag still on it?'
Coltrane shrugged. 'The young have but a nodding acquaintance with custom, I fear.'
'Thank God the court system still does,' Jessica said. 'They're really big on it. Indictment, prosecution, conviction, incarceration. You might say they are sticklers for tradition.'
Coltrane stared at her for a moment. Jessica saw the man's will begin to fade. 'May I see that photograph again?'
'Of course.' Jessica showed him. He studied it for a moment, rubbing his stubbled chin.
'Now that I've had a moment to reflect, I believe I have made the acquaintance of this gentleman.'
'Is this Tyvander Alice?'
'Tyvander?' he asked. 'No. I knew him by another name. I know him as Hoochie.'
'Yes. An unfortunate and undignified sobriquet based on his love of the lesser vintages, I believe.'
Jessica handed Coltrane the five. The man touched it to his forehead, sniffed it, then spirited it away under his blanket.
Before Jessica could ask another question she saw the blanket move. A few seconds later a Jack Russell terrier poked his snout out.
His gray snout. The dog blinked a few times, adjusting its eyes to the light.
'And who is this?' Jessica asked.
'This is the irascible Biscuit. He is my oldest friend.' Coltrane patted the dog's head. Jessica saw the blanket bounce up and down with the movement of the pooch's tail. 'Is there anything in the world better than a warm biscuit?'
Jessica tried to think of something. She could not. There was as good, but not better. She returned to the business at hand. 'Do you know where I might find Hoochie?'
Coltrane shrugged. '"I wander'd lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills.'"
Jessica raised an eyebrow, expecting more. There was no more. 'Bon Jovi?'
Coltrane smiled. 'Wordsworth.'
In other words, the answer was no. Homeless were just that. Jessica took out the photograph of Marcellus Palmer, the original victim found at Second and Poplar in 2004. 'Did you know this gentleman?'
'Oh yes,' Coltrane said. 'Marcellus. We shared many a tankard of kill-devil. But that was a long time ago.'
'Do you know what happened to him?'
Coltrane nodded sadly. 'I heard he came to an unfortunate end. City buried him.'
'Do you know where?'
Coltrane looked up at the concrete embankment. For a moment there was only the sound of the cars passing overhead. 'Now, I did know at one time. The recollection seems to be pirouetting just at the edge of my memory.'
Jessica produced another five, held it back. 'Think we could coax it back onto the dance floor?'
'I believe we can.'
The money was gone in an instant.
'Up around Parkwood, I believe.'
Jessica's phone rang. She looked at the screen. It was Byrne.
'Thank you for your time, Mr. Coltrane.'
'Always willing to do my part,' he said.
Jessica took a few steps away, answered her phone.
'Where are you?' she asked.
'Still in West Philly.'
Jessica told him what she had learned from Abraham Coltrane. Byrne filled her in on what she had missed. Two of the other homeless men who had been questioned in the murder of Marcellus Palmer were dead. The third man was long gone. Someone told someone that someone's friend had told someone that he was in Florida. Two someones was about the extent of any network worth exploring.
When they met back at the Roundhouse, Jessica checked a roster of the city's graveyards.
There was no cemetery in Parkwood.
Finnigan's Wake, the popular Irish pub at Third and Spring Garden Streets, in the Northern Liberties section of the city, was packed with a who's who from the department and the DA's office, as well as defense attorneys, paralegals, FBI agents, commissioners, medical examiner's investigators. As always, everyone clustered with their tribe. David Albrecht was there, shooting from the sidelines. Russ Diaz was with his new team. Tom Weyrich was there, looking a little better than Jessica had seen him look in a long time. Maybe it was the Guinness. Dennis Stansfield stood in the corner with two of his old squad mates.
The jampacked party was held on the second floor, also known as the Lincoln Level. After Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, his body was transported to Philadelphia to lie in state at Independence Hall. That night his body had been kept in a Northern Liberties funeral parlor, and the doors from that establishment became part of the second floor at Finnigan's Wake. More than one pint had been lifted to Honest Abe in this room.
As the evening wore on a number of people got up and told their Michael Drummond stories. Like all leaving parties, the first hour's worth of stories were mild, only somewhat ribald recounts of incidents that happened around the office. The second hour, seeing as Michael Drummond was about to become part of the opposition to most of the people in the room, became a little more adventurous, if not downright drunkenly libelous.
At eleven p.m. Michael Drummond himself took the microphone. Although Drummond was not yet forty, there was a lot of fresh blood in the DA's office and he was referred to as the old man.
'Yes, it's true that I joined the office after an unfortunate incident with a Model A Ford,' he said, drawing polite laughter.
He went on to thank just about everyone he'd ever worked with, on both sides of the aisle, taking particular care to heap praise upon all the judges – men and women in front of whom he would shortly be arguing for the defense – regardless of whether they were at the party or not.
Soon it became time for him to spill the beans. With a clank of a spoon on a crystal glass, he got everyone's undivided attention.
'Folks, I have an announcement to make,' Drummond said.
Everyone quieted down. This was, more or less, the reason they had gathered.
'In two weeks I will start work as a junior partner at Paulson Derry Chambers. Until then, I'm on the job. So watch yourselves.'
A rumble went through the room. Paulson Derry Chambers was one of the most prominent firms in the city. Everyone expected Mike Drummond to go for the dollar, but a junior partnership at Paulson Derry was like stepping into Valhalla. Applause followed.
'Although I didn't know him personally, I'd like to leave you with the wise words of Pericles,' Drummond added. 'He said: "What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others."'
'Hear, hear,' someone said.
Everyone raised a glass.
'Here's to old dogs,' a slightly inebriated Nick Palladino added.
Drummond laughed. 'And soft bones.'
Everyone returned to their small groups. The detectives gathered near the tall windows overlooking Spring Garden Street and the view of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
'Ah, shit,' Dino said after everyone sat down.
'What?' Jessica asked.
Dino stood up, looked in his pockets, patted himself down like a suspect. 'I can't believe this.'
Deadpan: 'I think I left my lip gloss at home.'
Dino pointed at Byrne's man bag, hanging off the back of his chair. 'Hey, Kev. You wouldn't happen to have any in there, would you?'
Muffled laughs around the table. Byrne shook his head. 'I'm a lot bigger than you are, you know that, right?'
'I know,' Dino said. 'But you're also older.'
'By what, five or six months?'
'That just means it will take me a few seconds longer to get across the room.'
Dino held up both hands. 'Just don't hit me with your man bag.'
Byrne shot to his feet.
Nick Palladino ran to the bar.
By midnight most of the younger players had moved on or gone home. It was a work night. There were young families waiting. After the midnight hour the floor was left to the serious drinkers.
Jessica, who was just about out the door, stood with Byrne near the elevator. Michael Drummond found them, crossed the room. He'd had his share of cheer, and more.
'Thanks for coming, guys.'
Drummond gave Jessica a brotherly hug, shook Byrne's hand, clapped him on the shoulder.
'You do realize we'll probably go up against each other one of these days,' Byrne said.
Drummond nodded. 'Yeah. I feel like I've gone over to the dark side.'
'The money should help ease your pain.'
Drummond smiled. He glanced at his watch. 'I've got to be up in about three hours,' he said. 'We're moving my mother into an assisted- living facility.'
'Do you need another pair of hands?' Byrne asked.
'No, we're good. Thanks.' Drummond slipped on his overcoat. 'I just have to be in Parkwood around six-thirty.'
Jessica looked at Byrne, then back. 'Parkwood?'
'What about it?'
'Well, it's just come up twice in one day.'
'What do you mean?' Drummond asked.
Jessica explained what they had done that afternoon, about Abraham Coltrane's claim that Marcellus Palmer, the 2004 victim found in the Dumpster just a few blocks from where they now stood, was buried in or around Parkwood. Drummond thought for a few moments.
'Well, I'm pretty sure there used to be a potter's field in Parkwood,' he said. 'It closed a while back.'
'Yeah. I think the bodies were disinterred and either moved to other cemeteries or cremated. I think there was supposed to be some kind of development that went in that spot, but nothing ever happened.' Drummond drained his glass, put it on the bar. 'Can you imagine living on top of a former cemetery?'
Jessica felt a chill at the idea. 'Do you know where the cemetery was located?'
Drummond shrugged. 'No idea. Sorry. I might even be wrong about this.'
'Counselor!' someone shouted drunkenly from across the room. 'You're needed for a voir dire.'
It was two old-timers from the DA's office. The voir dire was a process of jury selection, generally involving the judge and attorneys asking potential jurors about their experiences and beliefs. On the table in front of the two ADAs was one of every different kind of drink in the bar. There had to be fifty full glasses. Drummond looked back at Jessica and Byrne. 'Looks like the night isn't over for me yet. Thanks again for coming.'
Drummond slipped off his coat and staggered across the room.
Downstairs, a few minutes later, Byrne held the door for Jessica. They stepped out onto Spring Garden Street.
'So, what time do you want to meet me at L amp; I?' Byrne asked. The License amp; Inspections division had city-zoning archives going back more than two hundred years. If there had once been a cemetery in or around Parkwood it would be recorded there.
'As soon as they open, detective,' Jessica said.
Thursday, October 28
The city's last official potter's field had opened in 1956 in Philadelphia's Northeast. Prior to its opening, the most active potter's field had been in a section now used as a police parking lot at Luzerne Street and Whitaker Avenue, adjoining Philadelphia Municipal Hospital, where it became the final resting place for thousands who died in the 1918 flu epidemic. At various times in the city's history, indigent or unclaimed deceased were buried in a number of places, including Logan Square, Franklin Field, Reyburn Park, even at the corner of 15th and Catharine, just a few blocks from where Jessica had grown up.
These days, in the interest of logistics and expense, many of the unidentified and indigent were being cremated, with remains stored in a room off the morgue at the medical examiner's office.
Jessica and Byrne visited the zoning-archives department of Licenses and Inspections at just after eight a.m. The L amp; I office was located in the Municipal Services Building at 15th and JFK. What they learned was that there had once been a potter's field located in the Parkwood section of Northeast Philadelphia, a field that had since closed.
They stopped for coffee and got onto 1-95 at just after nine a.m.
The field was located near the intersection of Mechanicsville Road and Dunks Ferry Road at the southern end of Poquessing Valley Park.
On the south side of Dunks Ferry Road were blocks of two-story twin row homes, their fasciae festooned with Halloween decorations ranging from the elaborate (one had a skeleton about to climb down the chimney) to the ordinary (an already dented plastic pumpkin stuck on a gas light).
Jessica and Byrne got out of the car, crossed the road. They walked through the trees into a large open field. Here the ground was rippled – the uneven remnants of graves that had been there a long time.
There were no headstones, no crypts, no vaults, no mausoleum. The field had indeed been closed, the bodies moved or cremated, the area planted over.
Jessica looked at the rutted sod. She considered the generations of kids to come, flying kites, playing kickball, unaware that at one time the ground beneath their feet had held the remnants of the city's homeless, its indigent, its lost.
They walked slowly across the undulating earth, looking for any sign of what had once been there – a buried headstone, a grave marker of any kind, a stake in the ground indicating the boundaries of the cemetery. There was nothing. The earth had long ago begun to reclaim the area with life.
'Was this the only city field in this area?' Jessica asked.
'Yeah,' Byrne said. 'This was it.'
Jessica looked around. Nothing looked promising, at least as it might concern the cases. 'We're wasting our time up here, aren't we?'
Byrne didn't reply. Instead he crouched down, ran his hand over a bare patch of ground. A few moments later he stood, dusted off his hands.
Jessica heard a rustling in the nearby trees. She looked up to see a half-dozen crows perched tenuously on a low branch of a nearby maple. A murder of crows, she had once learned, and had ever since thought how odd a term that was. A flock of geese, a herd of cattle, a murder of crows. Soon another black bird landed, rustling the others, who responded with a series of loud caws and flapping wings. One of them took off and swooped toward the low shrubs at the other side of the field. Jessica followed the pattern of flight.
'Kevin,' she said, pointing to the bird before it landed out of sight. They looked at each other, started across the open field.
Before they got halfway they saw it – the unnatural gleam through the greenery, the bright white surface glinting in the sunlight.
They sprinted the last hundred feet or so and found the body lying in a shallow depression.
The victim was black, male, in his forties or fifties. He was nude, his body shaven head to toe. The ground beneath the corpse was not yet overgrown with grass. It was a former grave.
'Motherfucker,' Byrne yelled.
He stepped through the scene, taking care not to disturb the surrounding area. He put two fingers to the man's neck. 'Jesus Christ,' he said. 'His body's still warm. Let's get everyone and his mother down here. Let's get a K-9 unit.'
Then Byrne gently opened the dead man's hand. There, on the ring finger of his left hand, was the tattoo of a fish.
They both called it in – Byrne contacted the crime-scene unit, Jessica contacted the homicide unit who would then alert the MEO. They spread out to either side of the open field, weapons out. They checked the immediate area, combing the bushes, the scrub, the culverts and ditches, finding nothing.
Later they regrouped at the corner, each lost in their own thoughts. Although they had not immediately located any ID, there was no doubt in either Jessica's or Byrne's mind that the body they'd found – the dead man lying atop a former grave – was that of Tyvander 'Hoochie' Alice.
The tactical team hit the block in six cars, a combination of special- investigation detectives and members of the fugitive squad.
Russ Diaz and his squad fanned out north and east, toward the woods. A K-9 unit showed up a few minutes later. The next car brought Dana Westbrook. For the moment, this relatively quiet corner of Northeast Philadelphia – a place that had one time been a place of repose and solitude – was crawling with law-enforcement personnel.
Ten minutes later the dog and his officer came full circle, back to the parking area near the ball diamonds. It probably meant that the killer had parked there, returned after dumping the body, and then left. If that was so, the trail was cold.
While CSU processed the crime scene, Jessica and Byrne stood at the top of the hill, watching the choreography unfold below.
Detectives would soon canvass the immediate area. There was a condo development at Mechanicsville and Eddington Roads, a pair of apartments next to it. Maybe someone had seen something. But Jessica doubted it. Their killer was a ghost.
Kenneth Beckman, Sharon Beckman, Preston Braswell, Tyvander Alice.
Four bodies, eight tattoos.
Four to go.
And they didn't have a single solid lead.
The team spent the entire afternoon canvassing. The residences in this part of the city were not as tightly packed as they were in the inner city, so the act of interviewing and asking the same questions over and over was a much slower, even more enervating process.
They returned to the Roundhouse, followed up on a few weak leads. Nothing. By the end of the tour, the entire unit was exhausted and frustrated. Someone was solving the unsolved crimes in Philadelphia, but they were killing the killers and their accomplices. Someone was shaving these bodies clean, mutilating their faces, and wrapping them in paper. Someone who floated through the city like a phantom.
Jessica sat on the edge of a desk, a cup of cold coffee in her hand. She glanced over at the walk-in closet. Inside were the books of homicide cases dating back more than a hundred years. Inside the books were summaries of hundreds of unsolved cases, cases wherein there were suspects who were never charged with the crime, suspects who never became defendants, defendants who were acquitted for any number of reasons. The books were essentially a list of potential victims for their ghoul.
The duty room was mostly empty. The second tour had already begun, and those detectives were on the street, pursuing leads, tracking down witnesses. Jessica was envious.
'Don't you have a family to go home to?' Byrne asked.
'Nah,' Jessica said. 'Although, funny you should mention it, I have seen a man and a little girl hanging around my house. I should call the police.'
Byrne laughed. 'Speaking of which, how are you adjusting to the new house?'
'Well, besides tripping over the furniture and spinning in place for five minutes because there's nowhere to put a cup of coffee down, it's great.'
'Is it that much smaller?'
Jessica nodded. 'It's a lot like the house I grew up in. Same layout. The only problem is, I was a lot smaller then.'
'What, like a size four?'
Byrne's phone beeped in his hand. He looked at the screen, read for a moment, smiled.
'It's a text from Colleen,' he said. 'She wanted me to know she got back from D.C. okay.'
Jessica nodded. 'Wow,' she said. 'Colleen in college.'
'Don't remind me.'
Byrne picked up a tall stack of mail that was rubber-banded together on the desk. It looked like two weeks' worth of correspondence, mostly junk. Jessica wanted to mention to her partner that it was probably a good idea to check the inbox once in a while, but she figured he knew this.
As Byrne went through the pile, throwing most of the mail in the trash can, Jessica smelled the perfumed letter before she saw it. The scent was jasmine. Byrne held up the envelope, eyed it, sniffed it. It was the size of a personal note card, maybe four by six inches. Expensive-looking paper.
'A note from an admirer?' Jessica asked. 'As if,' Byrne replied.
'It's the charcoal gray suit, Kevin. I'm telling you.' Byrne pulled a letter opener off the desk, slit the envelope, extracted the card.
As much as Jessica wanted to pry, she stepped a few feet away, giving her partner a little privacy, shoving everything she needed to take with her into her tote bag. When she looked again at Byrne, he was bone pale. Something was wrong.
'What is it?' Jessica asked.
Byrne remained silent.
Byrne waited a few moments, then took Jessica by the arm, led her to the small coffee room, closed the door. He handed her the card. It was printed on a luxurious paper, ivory in color. The scent of jasmine was now much stronger. Jessica put on her glasses, read the note, a brief message written in an elegant hand. The ink was lavender.
My dearest Detective Byrne,
It has been a long time, n'est-ce pas? I wonder how you have fared. Do you think of me? I think of you often. In fact I dreamed of you the other night. It was the first time in years. You looked quite dashing in your dark overcoat and black fedora. You carried an umbrella with a carved ivory handle. Do you carry an umbrella as a rule? No, I would think not.
So tell me. Have you found them yet? The lion and the rooster and the swan? Are there others? You might think they do not play together, but they do. I hope you are well, and that the future brings you every happiness. I am no longer scared.
Jessica was stunned. She read the note a second time, the rich scent filling her head.
'Are you fucking kidding me?' she finally said in a loud whisper. 'The lion and the rooster and the swan?'
Byrne remained silent.
'Who the hell sent this, Kevin? Who is C?'
Byrne turned the envelope over and over in his hands, searching for words. Words were usually his strong suit. He always chose them carefully. He was good at it.
He told her the story.
Jessica looked at her partner. She wasn't sure how long she had been staring at him without saying anything, her mouth open, eyebrows raised. Then all she could muster was one word. 'Wow.'
Byrne said nothing.
'I remember her,' Jessica said. 'I mean, I remember the story. I think my father talked about it. Plus, it was all over the news for a while.' Although she'd been in high school at the time she and her friends had discussed the case, mainly because it involved sex, violence and celebrity.
In November 1990 a woman named Christa-Marie Schцnburg, a cellist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, was arrested and charged in the murder of a man named Gabriel Thorne. According to the news reports, Thorne was Christa-Marie's psychiatrist, but there was a great deal of speculation at the time as to whether or not they were romantically involved, even though Thorne had been Christa-Marie's caregiver since she was a child and was three decades her senior. If Jessica remembered correctly, Christa-Marie confessed to second-degree murder, diminished capacity, and was sentenced to twenty-to-life in the women's facility at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy.
'That was your first case?' Jessica asked.
Byrne nodded. 'My first as a lead detective, yeah. I was partnered with Jimmy.'
Jimmy Purify, his rabbi in the homicide unit, had been Byrne's partner before Jessica.
'I don't understand,' Jessica said. 'Is Christa-Marie still in Muncy?'
'No,' Byrne said. 'She was released a few years ago. The last I heard she's still living in the Chestnut Hill house.'
Jessica decided not to ask her partner why he knew all this. It was not all that uncommon for detectives to keep track of people they had arrested and convicted of crimes. What surprised Jessica was that she had known none of this.
'Have you spoken to her since her release?'
'Has she tried to contact you before this?'
'Not that I know of.'
Jessica took a few beats. She looked again at the handwriting on the note. It did not look like the penmanship of someone deranged. 'Is she, how do I put this… better now?'
Byrne shrugged. 'I don't know. The murder was pretty brutal, and she went through a battery of psychological tests at the time of the hearings. I saw some of the reports. Chronic depression. Borderline bipolar. It never came to anything because she pled out. There never was a trial.'
'Were you called at the hearing?'
'Did you testify?'
Byrne hesitated before answering. Jessica sensed a feeling of regret. 'Yes.'
Jessica tried to arrange the timeline in her mind. 'When was that card postmarked?'
Byrne looked at the envelope. 'Last Thursday.'
Jessica did the math. 'So she sent it-'
'Before the murders.'
Jessica felt her breath catch. She tried to process all this. It wasn't often that she was thrown such a curve. 'Is she capable of something like this? I mean, physically capable?'
Jessica knew that at least part of her question was rhetorical. The woman was a convicted murderer, after all. Obviously she was capable of violence. But violence committed in the throes of rage or passion didn't necessarily lead to cold blooded, well-calculated murder. And then there were the physical elements.
'She's capable,' Byrne said. 'The logistics? She's not a big woman, Jess, and she's obviously a lot older now. I don't think she could have done all this without some help.'
Jessica was silent for a moment. 'Okay. Maybe it's just a coincidence. The lion and the rooster and the swan.'
Byrne just glared.
'Okay, it was worth a shot.' Jessica glanced at her watch. 'Do you want to go now or in the morning?'
'Kevin. We need to talk to her.'
Byrne took the note card from her, slipped it back into the envelope. 'I should probably talk to her alone.'
Byrne was probably right, but that didn't make Jessica want to go along any less. 'You have to tell the boss, Kevin. You have to share it with the team.'
Byrne glanced around the small, cramped room. There wasn't really anything to look at besides a beaten-up coffee maker and the two-way mirror looking into one of the interview rooms. He looked back at his partner.
'Tomorrow,' he said.
Jessica started to object, but Byrne continued.
'Look, this is connected with the Kenneth Beckman case, and I'm working that case. How it's connected, I have no idea. But if it turns out to be something, I'll post it. If it doesn't, then there's no need to drag all this into the mix.'
'How could it not be connected, Kevin? It's not as if Christa-Marie could have just now learned any of this from anyone here. She wrote the note before the murders happened.'
'If I tell Dana right now, what is she going to do? Send a couple of detectives to interrogate Christa-Marie? I know Christa-Marie. I'm the one Dana would send, anyway. There's no reason to turn this woman's life upside down until we know what this is all about.'
'So you're going to talk to her off the record?'
Byrne said nothing.
Jessica wanted to remind her partner that Christa-Marie Schцnburg was a confessed murderer, a woman who had spent more than fifteen years in prison. If he didn't have some sort of as-yet-unidentified emotional attachment to the woman and her case, and he'd heard that a confessed murderer had information on fresh homicides, he'd be charging that way with the cavalry and more.
'Besides,' Byrne began, moving on to his closing argument, 'who's to say I didn't read this note tomorrow? Everyone knows I never open my mail.'
Kevin Byrne's secrets were safe with Jessica, as were hers with him. She trusted his judgment more than anyone else she knew.
'Okay,' Jessica said. 'Where do you want me on this?'
'I'll drive up to Chestnut Hill first thing in the morning. I'll call you after.'
Jessica nodded. They both went silent for a long time.
Finally Jessica asked, 'Are you okay, Kevin?'
Byrne opened the door of the coffee room, glanced out. The duty room was a ghost town. He turned back to his partner and said softly: 'I really don't know.'
Twenty minutes later Jessica watched Byrne gather his things, close his briefcase, retrieve his weapon from the file cabinet, grab his coat and keys. He stopped at the door, turned, gave her a sad smile and a wave. As he disappeared around the corner Jessica knew there was something else going on with him, something other than the job, something other than the horror of the four bodies dumped ceremoniously around their city.
Something he wasn't telling her.
He sits across the table from me, a trembling wreck of a man. In his hands is an old photograph, its colors long faded, its edges folded and creased.
We have had our coffee, shared our pleasantries. I am not one seduced by nostalgia. It means nothing to me.
'I didn't think you were coming back,' he says.
'But you know why I am here,' I say. 'Don't you?'
'Everything has changed now,' I say. 'We can never go back.'
He nods again, this time with a tear in his eye.
I glance at my watch. It is time, and time is short. I stand, bring my coffee cup to the sink, rinse it in scalding water. I dry the cup, return it to the cupboard. I am wearing gloves, but one can never be too careful. I return to the table. We fall silent. There is always a calm before the truth.
'Will it hurt?' he asks.
I listen to the voices of the dead swirling around me. I would love to ask them this question. Alas, I cannot. 'I don't know.'
'It's all so Cho Cho San, is it not?'
' Without the baby,' I say.
' Without the baby.'
A few moments pass. Clouds shade his eyes. 'Remember how it was?' he asks.
'I do. All things were possible then, n'est-ce pas.^? All futures.'
When I think of those times, I am saddened. I realize how much of it is gone forever, lost in the ductwork of memory. I stand. 'Do you want me to wait?'
He looks at the table for a moment, then at his hands. 'No,' he says softly.
I take the photograph from him, put it into my pocket. At the door I stop, turn. I see myself in the mirror at the end of the hall. It reminds me of the shiny crimson mirror of blood on the floor.
Before leaving I turn up the music. It is not Chopin this time, but rather Hoist's Planets Suite, a movement called 'Venus, The Bringer of Peace'.
Sometimes, I think, as I step through the door for the last time, the music exalts the moment.
Sometimes it is the other way around.
The Penn Sleep Center, part of the University of Pennsylvania Hospital system, was located in a modern steel and glass building on Market Street near 36th.
Byrne crossed the river about six, found a parking space, checked in at the desk, presented his insurance card, sat down, speed-skimmed a copy of Neurology Today, one of his all-time favorite magazines. He covertly checked the handful of people scattered around the waiting room. Not surprisingly, everyone looked exhausted, beat-up, dragged- out. He hoped everyone there was a new patient. He didn't want to think they were on their twentieth appointment and still looked this bad.
Byrne looked up. Standing at the end of the long desk was a blonde woman, no more than five feet tall. She was in her early forties and wore pink-rimmed glasses. She was perky and full of energy. Insomniacs hate perky.
Byrne got up, walked over to the bubbly gal in white rayon.
'Hi!' she chirruped. 'How are you today?'
'Never better, thanks,' Byrne said. Of course, if that was the case, what the hell was he doing at the hospital? 'How about yourself?'
'Super!' she replied.
Her name tag read Viv. Probably short for Vivacious.
'We're just going to check your height and weight.' She led him over to the digital scale, instructed him to take off his shoes. He stepped on the scale.
'I don't want to know how much I weigh, okay?' Byrne said. 'Lately I've just been… I don't know. It's hormonal, I think.'
Viv smiled, zipped her lips in a dramatic gesture, recorded Byrne's weight without a word. 'Now, if you could turn around, we'll check your height.'
Byrne spun around. Viv stepped on a footstool, raised the bar of the stadiometer, then lowered it gently, touching the top of Byrne's head. 'What about height?' she asked. 'Would you like to know how tall you are?'
'I think I can handle my height. Emotionally speaking.'
'You're still six foot, three inches.'
'Good,' Byrne said. 'So I haven't shrunk.'
'Nope. You must be washing in cold water.'
Byrne smiled. He liked Viv, despite her vim.
'Come this way,' she said.
In the small, windowless examining room Byrne cruised the two battered magazines, picking up a dozen new 30-minute chicken recipes, along with some tips on how to get puppy stains out of the upholstery.
A few minutes later the doctor came in. She was Asian, about thirty, quite attractive. Pinned to her lab coat was a photo ID. Her name was Michelle Chu.
They got the pleasantries about the weather and the insanity of the people in the indoor parking garage out of the way. Dr. Chu ran through Byrne's history on the computer's LCD monitor. When she had him sufficiently pegged, she turned in her chair, crossed her legs.
'So, how long have you had insomnia?'
'Let me put it this way,' Byrne said. 'It's been so long that I can't remember.'
'Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?'
'How long, on average, does it take you to fall asleep?'
All night, Byrne thought. But he knew what she meant. 'Maybe an hour.'
'Do you wake up during the night?'
'Yeah. At least a couple of times.'
The doctor made a few more notes, her fingers racing across the keyboard. 'Do you snore?'
Byrne knew the answer to this. He just didn't want to tell her how he knew. 'Well, these days I don't really have a steady…'
'Yeah,' Byrne said. 'That. Do you think you could write me a prescription for one of those?'
She laughed. 'I could, but I don't think your insurance provider would cover it.'
'You're probably right,' Byrne said. 'I can barely get them to pay for the Ambien.'
Ambien. The magic drug, the magic word. At least around neurologists. He had her attention now.
'How long have you been taking Ambien?'
'On and off for as long as I can remember.'
'Do you think you've developed a dependence?'
Dr. Chu handed him a pre-printed sheet. 'These are some of the sleep-hygiene suggestions we have-'
Byrne held up a hand. 'May I?'
'No alcohol, caffeine, or high-fat foods late at night. No nicotine. Exercise regularly, but not within four hours of bedtime. Go to bed and get out of bed at the same times every day. Turn your alarm clock around so you can't see the time. Keep your bedroom cool, not cold. If you can't fall asleep in ten minutes or so, get out of bed until you feel tired again. Although, if you can't see your clock, I don't know how you're supposed to know it's been ten minutes.'
Dr. Chu stared at him for a few moments. She had stopped typing altogether. 'You seem to know quite a bit about this.'
Byrne shrugged. 'You do something long enough.'
She then typed for a full minute. Byrne just watched. When she was done she said, 'Okay. Hop up on the table, please.'
Byrne stood up, walked over to the paper-lined examining table, slid onto it. He hadn't hopped anywhere in years, if ever. Dr. Chu looked into his eyes, ears, nose, throat. She listened to his heart, lungs. Then she took out a tape measure, measured his neck.
'Hmm,' she said.
Never a good sign. 'I prefer a spread collar,' Byrne said. 'French cuffs.'
'Your neck's circumference is greater than seventeen inches.'
'I work out.'
She sat down, put her stethoscope around her neck. Her face took on a concerned look. Not the you are in deep shit look, but concerned. 'You have a few markers for sleep apnea.'
Byrne had heard of it, but he really didn't know anything about it. The doctor explained that apnea was a condition wherein a person stops breathing during the night.
'I stop breathing?'
'Well, we don't know that for sure yet.'
'I'm kind of in the stop-breathing business, you know.'
The doctor smiled. 'This is a little different. I think I should schedule you for a sleep study.' She handed him a brochure. Color pics of smiling, healthy people who looked like they got a lot of sleep.
'You're willing to give it a shot?'
Anything was better than what he was going through. Except maybe the business about not breathing. 'Sure. I'm in.'
In the waiting room, three of the five people were asleep.
Byrne stopped at the American Pub in the Center Square Building on Market Street. The place was lively, and lively was just what was needed. He staked a place at the end of the bar, nursed a Bushmills. At just after ten o'clock his phone rang. He checked the ID, fully prepared to blow it off. It was a 215 exchange, with a familiar prefix. A PPD number. He had to answer.
'This is Kevin.'
It was a woman's voice. A young woman's voice. He did not recognize it. 'Yes?'
It took Byrne a little while to realize who it was. Then he remembered. 'Hi, Lucy. Is something wrong?'
'I need to talk to you.'
'Where are you? I'll come get you.'
A long pause.
'I'm in jail.'
The Mini-Station was located on South Street between Ninth and Tenth. Originally activated in 1985 to provide weekend coverage from spring to autumn, addressing the issues generated by crowds gravitating to South Street for its clubs, shopping and restaurants, it had since become a seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, year-round commitment, expanded to cover the entire corridor, which included more than 400 retail premises and nearly eighty establishments with liquor licenses.
When Byrne walked in, he immediately spotted an old comrade, P/O Denny Dorgan. Short and brick-solid, Dorgan, who was now in his early forties, still worked the bike patrol.
'Alert the hounds,' Dorgan said. 'We got royalty in the building.'
They shook hands. 'You getting shorter and uglier?' Byrne asked.
'Yeah. It's the supplements my wife is making me take. She thinks it will keep me from straying. Shows you what she knows.'
Byrne glanced over at Dorgan's bike, leaning near the front door. 'Good thing you can get heavy-duty shocks on the thing.'
Dorgan laughed, turned and looked at the waif-like girl sitting on the bench behind him. He turned back. 'Friend of yours?'
Byrne looked over at Lucy Doucette. She looked like a lost little kid.
'Yeah,' Byrne said. 'Thanks.'
Byrne wondered what Dorgan wondered, whether he thought that Byrne was dallying with a nineteen-year-old. Byrne had long ago stopped being concerned with what people thought. What had happened here was clear. Dorgan had stepped in between a misdemeanor and the law, on Byrne's behalf, and had done it as a favor to a fellow cop. The gesture would go into the books as a small act of kindness, and would one day be repaid. No more, no less. Everything else was squad-car scandal.
Byrne and Lucy had coffee at a small restaurant on South Street. Lucy told him the story. Or, it seemed to Byrne, the part she could bring herself to tell. She had been detained by security personnel at a kids'-clothing boutique on South. They said she'd attempted to walk out of the store with a pair of children's sweaters. The electronic security tags had been removed and were found underneath one of the sale racks, but Lucy had been observed walking around with the items, items which had not been returned to the racks. She had no sales receipts on her. Lucy had not resisted in the least.
'Did you mean to walk out with these items?'
Lucy buried her face in her hands for a moment. 'Yes. I was stealing them.'
From most people Byrne would have expected vehement denials, tales of mistaken identity and dastardly set-ups. Not Lucy Doucette. He remembered her as a blunt and honest person. Well, she was not that honest, apparently.
'I don't understand,' Byrne said. 'Do you have a child? A niece or a nephew that these sweaters were for?'
'A friend's child?'
Lucy shrugged. 'Not exactly.'
Byrne watched her, waiting for more.
'It's complicated,' she finally said.
'Do you want to tell me about it?'
Lucy took another second. 'Do I have to tell you now?'
Byrne smiled. 'No.'
The waitress refilled their cups. Byrne considered the young woman in front of him. He remembered how she had appeared in their therapy group. Shy, reluctant, scared. Not much had changed.
'Have you been back to any kind of treatment?' Byrne asked.
'What do you mean?'
Lucy told him a story, a story about a man called the Dreamweaver.
'How did you find this… Dreamweaver guy?'
Lucy rolled her eyes, tapped her fingers on her coffee cup for a few seconds, embarrassed. 'I found his card in the trash bin on my cart. It was right there, staring at me. It was like the card wanted me to find it. Like I was supposed to find it.'
Byrne gave Lucy a look, a look he hoped wasn't too scolding or paternal.
'I know, I know,' Lucy said. 'But I've tried everything else. I mean everything. And I think it might actually be doing me some good. I think it might be helping.'
'Well, that's what counts,' Byrne said. 'Are you going to see this guy again?'
Lucy nodded. 'One last time. Tomorrow.'
'You'll let me know what happens?'
They stood on the corner of South and Third. The evening had grown cold.
'Do you have a car?' Byrne asked.
Lucy shook her head. 'I don't drive.'
Byrne glanced at his van, then back. 'I'm afraid I'm going the other way.' He took out his cellphone, called for a cab. Then he reached into his pocket pulled out a pair of twenties.
'I can't take that,' Lucy said.
'Pay me back someday, then.'
Lucy hesitated, then took the money.
Byrne put a hand on each of her slight shoulders. 'Look. You made a mistake today. That's all. You did the right thing calling me. We'll work it out. I want you to call me tomorrow. Will you promise to do that?'
Lucy nodded. Byrne saw her eyes glisten, but no tears followed. Tough kid. He knew that she had been on her own for a while, although she hadn't brought up her mother this time. Byrne didn't ask. She would tell him what she wanted to tell him. He was the same way.
'Am I going to prison?' she asked.
Byrne smiled. 'No, Lucy. You're not going to prison.' The cab arrived, idled. 'As long as you don't carjack this guy on the way home you should be fine.'
Lucy hugged him, got into the cab.
Byrne watched the cab drive away. Lucy's face was small and pale and frightened in the back window. He couldn't imagine the burden she carried. He'd had the same experience of not knowing what had happened to him or where he had gone for that short period of time when they had declared him dead. But he had been an adult, not a child.
The truth was, Lucy Doucette had a bogeyman. A bogeyman who had kidnapped her and held her for three long days. Three days of dead zone in her life. A bogeyman who lived in every shadow, stood waiting around every corner.
Byrne had gotten a vision when he hugged her, a sparkling clear image that told him about a man who -dates women with young daughters and comes back years later for the girls… something about red magnetic numbers on a refrigerator door… four numbers…
Byrne made a mental note to call Lucy the next day.
Jessica looked around the bedroom. At least they hadn't broken any lamps. They had, however, knocked everything off one of the night stands. She hoped her mother's Hummels were okay.
Jessica rolled over, gathered the sheets around her. Vincent looked as if he had been hit by a car.
'No,' Vincent said. 'No, no, no.'
Jessica ran a finger over his lips. 'What?'
'You are a devil temptress.'
'I told you not to marry me.' She snuggled closer. 'What, are you worn out?'
Vincent caught his breath. Or tried to. He was coated with sweat. He pushed the covers off, remained silent.
'Boy, you macho Italian cops sure talk a good game,' Jessica said. 'Try to get you into round two? Fuggetaboutit.''
'Do we have any cigarettes?'
'You don't smoke.'
'I want to start.'
Jessica laughed, got out of bed, went down to the kitchen. She returned with two glasses of wine. If her calculations were correct – and they usually were at times like these, she had managed to get new appliances over the past two years by playing these moments just right – she would start her maneuvers in ten minutes.
On the other hand, this was not about a new washer or dryer. This was about a life. Their life. Sophie's life. And the life of a little boy.
When she slipped back into bed, Vincent was checking his messages on his cellphone. He put the phone down, grabbed his glass of wine. They clinked, sipped, kissed. The moment was right. Jessica said: 'I want to talk to you about something.'
The man was stabbed twenty times by his lover. The killer, whose name was Antony – a bit of Shakespearean irony – then proceeded to cut open his own stomach, finally bleeding out on the parkway, not two hundred feet from the steps leading to the art museum. The papers ran stories for nearly a week, the high drama too much for them to resist.
I know what really happened.
The murder victim had simply made a meat dish on Good Friday and Antony, being the devout Vatican I Catholic he was, and this being 1939, could not take the shame and guilt. I know this because I can hear their final argument. It is still in the air.
The voices of the dead are a shrill chorus indeed.
Consider the man stabbed over his Social Security check, his final pleas lingering at Fifth and Jefferson Streets.
Or the teenager shot for his bicycle, forever crying at Kensington and Allegheny, right in front of the check-cashing emporium where the regular customers pass by with smug indifference.
Or the grandmother bludgeoned for her purse at Reese and West Dauphin, her voice to this day howling her husband's name, a man dead for more than thirty-five years.
It is becoming harder to keep them out. When I bring one to the other side, it quiets for a while. But not for long.
I push through the huge rusted gate, drive along the overgrown lane. I park in the pooled darkness, remove my shovels. The voices calm for a moment. All I can hear, as I begin to dig, is the slow, inexorable descent of leaves falling from the trees.
Byrne couldn't sleep. The images of the four corpses rode a slow carousel in his mind. He got up, poured himself an inch of bourbon, flipped on the computer, logged onto the Net, launched a web browser. He cruised the headlines on philly. com, visited a few other sites, not really reading or comprehending.
Have you found them yet? The lion and the rooster and the swan? Are there others? You might think they do not play together, but they do.
He got onto YouTube. Once there, he typed in Christa-Marie Schцnburg's name. Even before he was done typing, a drop-down window opened, listing a number of possibilities.
CHRISTA-MARIE SCHЦNBURG BACH
CHRISTA-MARIE SCHЦNBURG HAYDN
CHRISTA-MARIE SCHЦNBURG ELGAR
Byrne had no idea where to begin. In fact, he really had no idea what he was doing, or exactly what he was looking for. On the surface he imagined he was looking for a portal, admittedly obscure, to the case. Something that might trigger something else. Something that might begin to explain Christa-Marie's impenetrable note to him. Or maybe he was looking for a young detective who had walked into a house in Chestnut Hill in 1990 and there began a long, dark odyssey of bloodshed and tears and misery. Maybe he was really looking for the man he used to be.
The final entry on the list was:
Christa-Marie Schцnburg Interview
Byrne selected it. It was three minutes long, recorded on a PBS show in 1988. Christa-Marie was at the height of her fame and talent. She looked beautiful in a simple white dress, drop earrings. As she answered questions about her playing, her celebrity at such a young age, and what it was like to play for Riccardo Muti, she vacillated between confident career woman, shy schoolgirl, enigmatic artiste. More than once she blushed, and put her hair behind one ear. Byrne had always thought her an attractive woman, but here she was stunning.
When the interview was complete Byrne clicked on the Bach entry. The browser took him to a page that linked to a number of other Christa-Marie Schцnburg videos. Her entire public life was shown in freeze-frames down the right-hand side of the page – bright gowns and brighter lights.
He clicked on Bach Cello Suite No. 1. It was a montage video, all still photographs. The photographs in the montage, one slowly dissolving into the next, showed Christa-Marie at a number of ages, a variety of poses and settings: in a studio, smiling at the camera, a side view on stage, a low-angle photograph of her at nineteen, a look of intense concentration on her face. The last photograph was ChristaMarie at nine years old, a cello leaning against the wall next to her, almost twice her size.
Byrne spent most of the next hour watching the YouTube offerings. Many were collage-type videos, assembled by fans, but there were also live performances. The last video was Christa-Marie and a pianist in a studio, playing Beethoven's Sonata No. 3 in A. At the halfway point, in close-up, Christa-Marie looked up, straight at the lens, straight at Byrne.
When the piece finished, Byrne went to the kitchen, took two Vicodin, chased it with a swig of Wild Turkey. Probably not the prescribed way, but you had to go with what worked, right?
He looked out the window at the empty street below. In the distance was the glow of Center City. There was another body out there, another body waiting to be discovered, a raw, abraded corpse with a strip of blood-streaked paper around its head.
He glanced at the kitchen clock, although he didn't need to.
It was 2:52.
Byrne grabbed his coat, his keys, and went back out into the night.
Lucy sat on the fire escape, wrapped in her dark blue afghan, one of the few things that had survived her childhood, one of the few things that she could stuff into a nylon duffel bag and take with her when she moved on, which she had done so many times in the past two years that she had nearly lost count.
She looked in the window. She had rented this room, a third-floor room in a trinity on Fourth Street, about two months earlier. The family was very nice. An elderly couple with no children, they had welcomed her like a granddaughter, and for the first two weeks had invited her to dinner every night.
Lucy, having had no experience with real family life, had begged off with a variety of excuses until the couple – Tilly and Oscar Walters – had gotten the hint.
The night was calm, the sky was clear, and for the first time in a long while she could see a few stars. Maybe they had been there all the time and she had forgotten to look. Perhaps the darkness was inside her, had made its nest in her soul, and refused to leave, refused to let up.
She wrapped the afghan more tightly around her, but she wasn't really all that cold. Maybe it was all those years in drafty apartments, all those years when the heat was turned off, all those years huddling around an electric stove in winter until the electricity too was turned off.
Since the day the plane came out of the sky, she had tried everything to make the feeling go away. Drugs, alcohol, men, religion, yoga, all manner of self-destruction and abuse. Men. Quite often the men she chose – boys, really – filled in any small gaps in the abuse, making her hell complete.
And now she was in trouble. She always knew she would eventually get caught shoplifting, even though she was good at it. Her mother had sent her into stores from the time she was only three years old. In the first few years she was only the diversion, doing the little-cutie bit to distract store owners while her mother boosted cigarettes or alcohol or, once in a great while, a treat for Lucy.
But today she had gotten caught, and she was going to go to jail. Even though Detective Byrne said that wasn't going to happen, she wasn't so sure. She had wanted to tell him about the man in 1208, but for some reason she couldn't bring herself to do it.
And now, sitting on this rusting fire escape, she began to cry. It was the first time for years. She tasted the salt on her lips. She felt pathetic.
It was worse for the little girl who'd been killed. Little Stacy Pennell. Sergio had told her the story.
In 1999 a ten-year-old girl, whose family had lived in Le Jardin when it had been an apartment building, had been down in the laundry room with her older sister Cyndy. Cyndy, whose job it was to watch her runt of a sister, couldn't be bothered, it seemed. When Cyndy wasn't looking, Stacy had grabbed the keys from on top of the dryer and snuck out of the laundry room.
Sergio said that when Stacy got off the elevator she probably did not notice the man standing in the stairwell at the end of the hall, just a few feet from the entrance to the Pennell apartment.
When they found Stacy later she had been brutally murdered, her throat cut from ear to ear. Sergio said her body had bite marks on it.
It had happened in Room 1208.
It couldn't have been coincidence, Lucy thought. It just couldn't. The man in 1208 had been there for a reason. Some other little girl was going to be hurt.
Was the man who killed Stacy Pennell the same man who had kidnapped her?
Lucy was suddenly cold. She slipped back inside, shut the window. She walked over to the closet, opened the door, sat down, and waited for the night to embrace her.
Fifteen feet below, in the gloom of the stairwell beneath the fire escape, a man stepped into the shadows and joined Lucinda Doucette in darkness.
Friday, October 29
In the shower Jessica thought about the previous night. Vincent had listened to her entire well-planned speech. He had been surprisingly receptive to the idea of adopting Carlos, considering that he was not the most open-minded person she had ever met.
They made love a second time, this time sweet, married love, and halfway through she saw something in Vincent's dark eyes that told her they might actually do this. Later Vincent told her, in the twilight before sleep, that he wanted to meet Carlos first before even thinking about making any decision, of course. Maybe he wanted to do a little male bonding, Jessica thought. Take the kid to a Flyers game, do a few Jager Bombs, leaf through a copy of the new Maxim.
As she was getting dressed, she realized that Vincent had made the bed – a first. She also noticed a flower on her pillow. Granted, it was a silk flower, and Vincent had taken it from the arrangement on the dining-room table. But it was the thought that counted.
Marcel's Costume Company was a storefront on Market Street near Third. Established in 1940, Marcel's carried a full line of Halloween outfits, professional make-up, wigs, and accessories. Marcel's also created costumes for local television shows and was quite often hired for supplemental wardrobe for Philadelphia's booming film-production industry.
But today it was all about Halloween. Marcel's was open twenty- four hours a day this week, and even at 7:30 a.m. the store was half full.
When Jessica and Sophie walked in, Jessica saw Rory behind the counter. Rory Bianchi was a kid from the old neighborhood who had always had a crush on Jessica, and ever since ninth grade they'd had the sort of relationship where the flirting went on but never went anywhere.
'The two prettiest girls in Philly,' Rory said. 'In my shop!'
'Hi, Rory!' Sophie said.
'Hey little darlin',' he said. 'Ready for the big night?'
Sophie nodded. A kid in a costume shop. Outside of a candy story, there was nothing cooler. Jessica remembered coming into Marcel's when she was a girl and Wonder Woman had been the rage.
'I have it for you right here,' Rory said.
Of all the costumes available – including Disney characters like Ariel from The Little Mermaid, which was Sophie's favorite movie – Sophie had picked something called the Snowflake Fairy. Jessica had tried to explain that Halloween was a fall holiday, but her words had fallen on deaf ears. Unlike her mother, Sophie loved the winter, especially snowflakes. Come December Sophie was endlessly cutting them out of construction paper and dotting the house with them.
'Do you want the wings and the wand, too?' Rory asked.
It was a dumb question, but Jessica looked at Sophie anyway. Sophie seemed to be in a fairy trance, the reflection of white satin in her big brown eyes.
'Sure,' Jessica said.
'I take it you'll want the tiara as well.'
Jessica took out her credit card as fast as she could, in case there was anything else.
Sophie floated out to the parking lot, still in a daze, the dress clutched tightly in her hands, as if Monica Quagliata might be lurking behind the next SUV – Monica with designs on the Snowflake Fairy costume.
When they got to the car, Sophie supervised the hanging of the costume on the hook in the back, pronounced it safely stowed for the few-mile journey. She slipped into the seat next to it, buckled in.
Before Jessica could start the car, a family crossed the street in front of them – mom, dad, two boys, two girls. Jessica looked over at Sophie.
'Do most of your friends have brothers and sisters?' Jessica asked. It was a rhetorical question, but one that Jessica needed to ask to get the conversation started.
Sophie didn't give this too much thought. She just nodded.
'Do you ever wish you had brothers and sisters?'
A shrug. 'Sometimes.'
'What would you think about having a brother?'
Jessica laughed. 'Yeah. A boy, sweetie.'
Sophie thought for a moment. 'Boys are okay. A little bossy, but okay, I guess.'
Jessica dropped Sophie off at school, stopped at Old City Coffee on Church Street. Outside, she picked up an Inquirer and a free copy of The Report, Philly's sleaziest tabloid – and that was saying something. As expected, the current spate of murders was splashed across the cover.
Philly Noir, the Geometry of Vengeance, screamed the headline.
Jessica tossed the Report in the trash, tucked the Inquirer under her arm. She got into her car, wondering how Byrne was faring.
Have you found them yet? The lion and the rooster and the swan? Are there others?
What did Christa-Marie Schцnburg have to do with all this?
She checked her cellphone. No calls from Byrne.
The primary role of the Department of Human Services was to intervene and protect neglected, abused or abandoned children, as well as to guarantee their well-being when there were immediate threats or impending dangers in their lives.
The Children and Youth Division provided youth and family-centered services to more than 20,000 children and their families each year.
Although the main offices were located at 1515 Arch Street there were various facilities throughout the city – temporary shelters and foster-care centers.
Jessica arrived at Hosanna House, a stand-alone brick building on Second Street. She signed in and walked to the day room at the back. She was immediately assaulted by the sound of a dozen toddlers in full morning mania. The place smelled like orange juice and crayons.
Carlos sat at a table with two little girls and a young woman of about twenty. He wore a red cardigan. He looked adorable.
Jessica watched him for a few minutes. Kids were unbelievably resilient, she thought. Just two weeks earlier this little boy's life had been hell on Earth.
But Jessica knew enough, had seen enough cases of abused and neglected children to know that many times there was residual grief and anger and fear. Most of the people she had arrested in the past five years were, almost to a man or woman, products of broken homes.
Carlos looked up and saw her. He got out of his chair, rocketed across the room, and threw his arms around her. He ran back, got a piece of paper from the table, ran back to Jessica, handed it to her.
It was a crayon drawing of a room, possibly the living room where Carlos had lived with his mother. There was something that looked like a chair and a table, and a woman in the corner with wild dark hair, eyes the size of her whole head. Patricia Lentz, Carlos's biological mother, had blonde hair, almost white.
It didn't take Jessica long to realize the figure in the drawing just might be her. Right behind her was a bright sun. Jessica's heart felt ready to beat its way out of her chest.
She looked at the table in Carlos's drawing. On the table was something that Jessica had no trouble recognizing. It was a two-yearold boy's rendition of a gun.
Jessica suddenly felt a paralyzing wave of sadness. She fought it.
'Can I have this?' she asked Carlos.
'Stand up tall – let me look at you.'
Carlos stood at attention. His hair was combed, his face scrubbed. His sweater and pants looked new.
'This is a beautiful sweater,' Jessica said.
Carlos giggled, looked down, toyed with a button, perhaps thought better of messing with it. He was two. He knew his limitations.
'Where did you get your new clothes?'
Carlos turned toward the table, held out his tiny hand. Jessica walked over, hand in hand with Carlos. He sat down and tucked into a new drawing.
'Hi,' Jessica said.
The young woman at the plastic picnic table looked up. 'Hi.'
Jessica pointed to the drawing in her hand. 'This is pretty good for a two-year-old. I couldn't draw a straight line then. Still can't.'
The young woman laughed. 'Join the club.' She looked over at Carlos, smoothed his hair. 'He's such a beautiful boy.'
'Yes, he is,' Jessica said.
'I'd kill for those eyelashes.'
'Are you a counselor here?'
'No, no,' the young woman said. 'I just help out. I volunteer one day a week.'
Jessica nodded. The young woman had about her an air of competence, but also an air of sadness. Jessica felt the same way about herself sometimes. It was hard to see the things she saw every day and not be affected. Especially the kids. Jessica glanced at her watch. Her tour was starting.
'It was nice talking to you,' Jessica said.
Jessica extended her hand. 'My name is Jessica, by the way.'
The young woman stood, shook her hand. 'Lucy,' she replied. 'Lucy Doucette.'
When Jessica got to her car she felt another wave of melancholy. The drawing that Carlos had given her hit home. It would probably be a long time until those memories passed from his life. Was it too much for her and Vincent to be taking on?
As she unlocked the car door she turned to see someone approaching. It was Martha Reed, the director of Hosanna House. Martha was in her early fifties, plump but energetic, with clever blue eyes that missed nothing.
'Carlos looks well,' Jessica said. 'He looks… happy.' It was a stretch, but Jessica couldn't think of anything else to say.
'He's adjusting,' Martha replied. Martha Reed had seen a lot of children in her time.
The woman then rummaged in her bag, took out her BlackBerry. She tapped around, got to her calendar. 'Can you and your husband be here today at around eleven?'
Jessica's heart thundered. They were getting their adoption interview. She'd known this moment was coming, but now that it was here she wondered how she was going to handle it. 'Oh yeah. We'll be here.'
Martha looked around conspiratorially. She lowered her voice. 'Between you and me, it looks really good. I'm not supposed to say that, but it looks good.'
Jessica drove out of the Hosanna House parking lot on a cloud. Before she could turn onto Second Street her cellphone rang in her hand. It was Dana Westbrook.
'Morning, boss. What's going on?'
'I just got the report on the Joseph Novak surveillance.'
'We had a detective from West on him all night. Experienced guy, used to be in anti-gang, and did some task-force work with DEA. He sat on the apartment his whole tour. He said that from the time he came on until six this morning, there were no lights on in the place, no activity. About eight o'clock this morning he put on a Philadelphia Water Department jacket, grabbed a clipboard, got the super to let him in, and knocked on Novak's door. He got no answer, so he went around back, climbed the fire escape, looked in the window.'
'Was Novak home?'
'He was,' Westbrook said. 'He was sitting at his desk. It looks like, after he left the Roundhouse yesterday, he went home, shredded all of his sheet music and news clippings, and somewhere between six o'clock last night and eight o'clock this morning put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.'
The amount of blood was staggering.
Jessica stood next to the stacks of crystal CD cases. The clear boxes were sprayed with blood and brain matter. Bits of shattered skull stuck to the valance over the curtains.
Joseph Novak's body was in the desk chair at an unnatural angle – the force of the blast had twisted his body in two directions. The upper third of his head was missing. Not missing, exactly, Jessica thought. It was dispersed around the wall and drapes behind him. The bullet had blasted out the window. There were two CSU officers across the street at that moment searching for the slug.
Was Joseph Novak their killer? He'd seemed unshakeable when he had been in for questioning, but why had he run the previous day? What did he have to hide?
The body was removed at ten a.m.
Jessica watched the CSU officers go through the motions. Now that the body was gone, the apartment-management company would soon contact one of the cleaning crews that specialized in crime-scene cleanup, a mini-growth industry during the past ten years. The world would move on.
The death had all the earmarks of a suicide, so there was probably not going to be a full-blown investigation. The weapon, a Colt Commander, had still been in Joseph Novak's hand when he was found, his finger curled inside the trigger guard.
Jessica would present her report to her boss, who would pass it along to the DA's office, who would then make a ruling. Unless there was any compelling evidence of foul play, this would be ruled a suicide and the homicide division of the PPD would not be involved any further.
But that didn't mean there was not a connection to the serial murders going on in the city.
Jessica got the attention of the two CSU officers who were dusting the doors and table for fingerprints.
'Can you guys give me a few minutes?'
The officers, always ready for a break, set aside what they were doing, walked through the door into the hallway, closed it.
Jessica slipped on gloves, turned the laptop to face the other side of the desk. The screen displayed a default screen saver. She touched the space bar, and in a second the screen came back to life. It was a Word document, with three short sentences.
Zig, zig, zig.
What a saraband!
They all hold hands and dance in circles…
Jessica was not familiar with the passage. Was this a suicide note? she wondered. She scrolled down on the trackpad but there was nothing else. The document was just the three lines. She glanced at the corner of the window. It had not been saved.
Was this a work in progress? Was this some sort of message from Joseph Novak, some riddle left behind for friends and family by which they might make some sense of his final, violent act?
Jessica had no idea. As much as she would have liked to take the laptop with her, she had no jurisdiction over it. Not yet, anyway. She would lobby the DAs office to establish a material-witness status for the late Joseph Novak, and perhaps she would get a chance to go through it.
She looked around the place. The silence was thick and oppressive.
Jessica had to be careful about looking through the contents of the computer. The homicide unit had recently received directives from the DA's office about needing court approval for doing anything with a computer that involved clicking a mouse or touching a keyboard. If there was something on the screen to be seen, in plain view, that was one thing. If it involved maximizing a minimized window, launching a program, or visiting a web page located in a history on a browser, that was something else.
A case against a man trafficking in child pornography had recently been tossed because the detective, knowing there were thousands of images on the man's hard drive, had opened a graphics program. It turned out that every time a program was launched, there was a log of the event and a record of the precise time it happened. If the suspect was in custody at that moment, the detective could not claim that the program was already open.
Jessica clicked over to the side bar. There was no harm in looking, as long as she didn't open any files or programs. She glanced at the contents of the drive. There was one file, saraband. doc. That was it. Other than that, there was nothing on the drive. No documents, no spreadsheets, no databases, no photos, music or audio files. It had all the earmarks of a drive that had been recently erased.
Any good computer-forensic lab would be able to tell when a drive had been formatted, and could usually find evidence of the files that were originally on the drive. Jessica was already formulating the case she would make to the DA's office to allow them to do just that.
In the meantime she would get a couple of warm bodies down here to canvass the building, just to see if Joseph Novak had had any visitors earlier in the day. If he had, maybe it could lead to a full-scale investigation of his death as something other than a suicide.
She took out her phone, checked her voicemail. Two messages.
When did she get two messages? Why hadn't it rung? She checked the side of the phone. With an iPhone, the switch to toggle from silent to ring tone was on the upper left, and was easily activated when you put the phone in your pocket. Too easily. The ringer had been off.
Jessica switched it back on, tapped the first voicemail message. It was from the man who was hoping to install the awnings on the new house. He wanted two grand. Dream on.
The second call was from an unknown caller. She played it.
'Detective Balzano, this is Joseph Novak.'
Jessica jumped to her feet. Her skin broke out in gooseflesh. She glanced behind her, at the dark sienna stains on the carpet and walls. She could still smell the cordite in the air, could taste the coppery airborne blood at the back of her throat. Joseph Novak's blood. She was listening to a message from the grave.
'I want to apologize for my behavior. I can't go on like this. There is more to this than you know. Much more. You don't know him. I cannot live with myself anymore.'
Jessica paused the message for a moment, paced the living room. Everything she looked at – the books, the CDs, the furniture itself – took on a new meaning.
She stopped pacing, tapped the button, continued the message.
'I hear him coming down the hall. Look in the cabinet above the range in the kitchen.'
The message ended.
Jessica put her phone in her pocket, crossed the living room into the compact Pullman kitchen. She opened the cabinets above the range hood. There she found a dozen or so cookbooks – Mexican, Italian, Cajun. She pulled a few of them out, riffled the pages. Nothing. The second-to-last cookbook was labeled Home Recipes. She pulled it out. When she did, something fell on the floor. It was a slim leather-bound journal. The cover was worn and creased. She picked it up. Stuck in the front was an old photograph. It was Joseph Novak at fifteen or so, standing next to a beautiful cello. Jessica slipped the picture back in the book, opened it.
It was a diary.
June 22. The competition is this Saturday. But it is more than just a competition for first chair. We both know that. It is a competition for her. It will always be thus.
Jessica flipped ahead to the back of the journal. She read the final entry.
November 1. All Saints Day. It is done. I know now that I will be forever beholden to him. I will never be out of his shadow. For the rest of my life I will do his bidding. My heart is forever broken, forever in his hands.
Zig, zig, zig.
He is death in cadence.
Jessica closed the journal. She needed a warrant to search every square inch of this apartment, and she needed one fast. She put in a call to the DA's office, told them what she had, what she needed. She took the journal, intending to say it had been in plain sight, therefore not covered by the warrant. She stepped outside, locked the door. She told the two CSU officers they could return to the lab. She would call them when and if she needed them.
She walked across the street, grabbed a coffee-to-go at the diner, stepped into the parking lot behind. She called Byrne, got his voice- mail. She called Dana Westbrook, gave her a status report. Westbrook said she would send two other detectives from the Special Investigations Unit to aid in the search.
Jessica opened the journal. There was something under the back cover. She peeled it back gently. There was a second photograph there, an old Polaroid, a long shot of a window in a huge stone building. In the window was a figure. It was impossible to see who it was, but it looked like a slender woman. On the back of the photograph was one word scrawled in red pencil.
Before Jessica could get the photograph back into the journal she heard someone approaching, footfalls on hard gravel. She turned.
The fist came from nowhere, connecting with the right side of her face in a dull thud. She staggered back, saw stars. The journal flew out of her hands. The second blow was more glancing, but it carried enough force to knock her to the ground. She had enough presence to roll onto the side where she had her weapon holstered.
Through the haze she saw her assailant. White-blond hair, filthy jeans, laceless sneakers. She didn't recognize him. Not by sight, not at first. When he spoke again, she knew. And there was no mistaking those eyes.
'I think we have some unfinished business, Detective Balzano,' Lucas Anthony Thompson said. 'Or should I say Detective Cunt Balzano.'
Jessica rolled to her right, worked the Glock from her holster, but she was too slow. Thompson stepped forward, kicked the weapon from her hand.
'You shoulda shot me when you had the fucking chance, bitch. Ain't gonna happen today.'
When Thompson took another step toward her, Jessica saw movement at the back of the parking lot. A shadow slithered along the pavement.
Someone was standing behind Thompson.
And then everything went gray.
The Philadelphia Orchestra began life in 1900. Over the next century it held many distinctions, not the least of which was the 'Philadelphia Sound', a legacy that, under conductor Eugene Ormandy, became known for its clarity and skilled execution, its warm tonality and precise timing.
The orchestra also had a unity of artistic leadership virtually unknown in the world of great orchestras, with only seven musical directors in its entire history. Two men, Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy, held the reins from 1912 to 1980.
It was on the occasion of Ormandy's leaving that the Philadelphia Orchestra found itself at a crossroads and, perhaps in an attempt to modernize its somewhat staid image, turned to a young firebrand, Neapolitan Riccardo Muti, as its new musical director. Darkly handsome, intensely serious to the point of almost never smiling on stage, Muti ushered in a new era, an era dominated by a man whose insistence on the letter of the musical law earned him the nickname – at least around the opera houses of Italy – of lo scerif, the sheriff.
In 1981, in a move still discussed in some circles, the orchestra rattled the classical musical world by hiring as its principal cellist a nineteen-year-old named Christa-Marie Schцnburg – a tempestuous wunderkind who was taking the world of strings by storm. Within a year her name became as synonymous with the Philadelphia Orchestra's as Muti's, and when the chamber orchestra toured Eastern Europe that summer Christa-Marie Schцnburg was the talk of the classical- music universe.
By the time she was twenty-two there was no doubt in the minds of the cognoscenti that she would surpass, in technical skill, pure artistry and, indeed, world-wide recognition, the only other woman to capture international fame on the cello, the tragic Jacqueline du Pre, the brilliant cellist whose career was cut short at the age of twenty-eight by multiple sclerosis.
And while Jacqueline du Pre made her most memorable recording with Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor, Christa-Marie put her imprimatur on the Bach suites.
For nearly a decade, from Vienna's Konzerthaus to Rotterdam's Grote Zaal, from the Royal Festival Hall in London to Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, Christa-Marie Schцnburg, with her tensile, passionate music, brought audiences to their feet.
On a cold autumn night in 1990 all of that changed.
Something tragic happened on that night when Christa-Marie returned home after a triumphant performance at the Academy of Music – a benefit attended by many of Philadelphia's elite society, a fund-raiser for Philadelphia's homeless children.
Although details of the last two hours remain unknown, it was believed that Christa-Marie returned to her Chestnut Hill house at approximately 11:45 p.m., delivered there by a car service. A few hours later, according to her housekeeper, there were sounds of an argument in the kitchen, a struggle, then a scream. The housekeeper called the police.
Police arrived at around two-thirty. They found a man named Gabriel Thorne – a psychiatrist who had treated Christa-Marie for many years – sprawled on the kitchen floor, bleeding heavily from wounds to his abdomen and chest, the bloodied knife at his side. He was still alive. They called EMS, who tried to save him at the scene but failed. He was pronounced dead minutes after their arrival. The ME's office would eventually rule that Thorne bled out as a result of multiple stab wounds.
Christa-Marie Schцnburg never played another public concert.
Because she confessed to the crime there was no show trial, much to the disappointment of the burgeoning cable-TV court shows. Christa- Marie Schцnburg was as enigmatic as she was strikingly beautiful, and her relationship with Thorne was, for many years, cause for gossip and speculation.
The last time Byrne saw Christa-Marie Schцnburg was at her allocution, when she stood before a judge and admitted her guilt regarding the murder of Dr. Gabriel Thorne.
As Byrne drove north he thought of the Chestnut Hill house, how when people heard what had happened they began to gather across the street early the next morning, bringing with them flowers and stuffed animals, even sheet music. It was as if Christa-Marie had been the victim, not the perpetrator.
Byrne had thought of Christa-Marie often. It wasn't just that Christa-Marie Schцnburg had been his first case as the lead detective in a homicide. Something else about the woman haunted him. What drew him to her had never been entirely clear to him.
Maybe he would discover what that was today.
'I'm fine,' Jessica said.
It was a lie, but she was sticking to it.
The paramedic shone his light into her eyes for the third time, took her blood pressure for the third time, took her pulse for the fifth time.
She had been punched on many occasions in the past – when you box in the ring, it kind of goes with the territory – and this had been a glancing blow, not really that hard. But it had caught her off guard. In the ring, you brace yourself for incoming blows, and the adrenalin that flows naturally at a moment like that works as a sort of neural shock absorber. No one on Earth can be prepared for a sucker punch, which, by definition, comes out of the blue. Her head throbbed a little but her vision was clear, and her energy level was high. She wanted back in the game but they were going to make her sit there like an invalid. She had seen it many times in her years on the job, had even been the purveyor of the unwelcome news to victims of assault.
Just sit there for a moment.
Not so for Vincent Balzano. When the sector cars showed up, she made the call, found Vincent only a dozen blocks away, working an investigation of his own. He broke every speed record getting to the scene. That was the easy part. Calming him down was another matter. At the moment he was pacing like a caged animal. Unfortunately for Vincent Balzano and his Italian temper, he was lacking a convenient punching bag. For now, at least.
Jessica's weapon had been recovered. It had not been fired.
All Jessica remembered was hearing other footsteps but she did not know whose they were. She did not mention the journal, which had not been recovered from the scene
'No one said anything?' Westbrook asked.
Jessica shook her head. It hurt. She stopped doing it. 'No. I heard footsteps approaching. I got clocked twice. There was a scuffle. Then I faded out.'
'What kind of scuffle?'
'Not sure. I heard at least two people grunting. Then the ringing in my ears took over.'
'And you did not see the other person?'
'No, but I-'
Jessica suddenly looked at her watch, sprang to her feet. She felt dizzy for a moment, then it passed. Her anger did not.
'What is it?' Vincent asked.
'We missed it. We fucking missed it.' 'What?'
'The appointment at the Department of Human Services.'
'Don't Jess me.'
'We'll work it out,' Vincent said. 'Don't worry.'
'Don't worry? This is why they turn you down, Vincent. This is the first big test. You don't show, you don't call, it's over.'
Vincent held her close. 'I think you have a pretty good excuse, babe. I think they'll understand.'
'They won't,' Jessica said, wiggling loose. 'Plus, they're not going to place Carlos in a home where his mother is in danger every day.'
'They know we're both cops. They know what we do.'
It all came out. The anger of this brutal case. The inability to conceive for two years. The indignity of being assaulted. All of it.
'You weren't there, Vincent. I was there. I saw how Carlos was living. I saw the dog shit and the fucking hypodermic needles all over the place. I saw the cockroaches and rats in the sink, the rotting food. I saw him hiding under a fucking garbage bag. You don't know what a hell hole it was, how bad his life was. They are not going to hand him over to us so we can make it worse.'
She tried to walk it off. The rage was a breathing thing within her.
Soon Jessica calmed down and let the investigation begin. It was going to be a long day – and it was just getting started.
Chestnut Hill was an affluent neighborhood in the Northwest section of Philadelphia, originally part of the German Township laid out by Francis Daniel Pastorius. One of the original 'railroad suburbs,' the area contained a wide variety of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century residences designed by many of the most prominent Philadelphia architects.
Before leaving Center City, Byrne had called ahead to schedule a time to meet with Christa-Marie. He was directed to Christa-Marie's attorney, a man named Benjamin Curtin. Reluctant at first, Curtin arranged to meet Byrne at the estate at one p.m.
As Byrne turned down St. Andrews Road he saw the house for the second time in his life. He had not been back since the night of the murder.
It was a massive, sprawling Tudor building with a circular driveway accented with cobblestones, a large gabled entrance. To the right, partially hidden by trees, was a stable, next to a pair of tennis courts. A high wrought-iron fence encircled the property.
Byrne parked his van and, even though he was wearing his best suit, suddenly felt underdressed. He also realized that he had been holding his breath. He got out of the vehicle, straightened his tie, smoothed the front of his overcoat, and rang the bell. A few moments later the door was opened by a woman in her sixties. Byrne announced himself, and the woman led him through the high, arched doorway. Ahead was a carved mahogany winding staircase; to the right were thick fluted pillars leading to a formal dining room. To the left was the great room, with a view of the pool and the manicured grounds beyond. Byrne's heels echoed in the massive space. The woman took his coat and led him into a study off the enormous foyer.
The room was darkly paneled, clubby, with a pair of large bookcases built in and a vaulted open-trussed ceiling. A fire burned in the fireplace. The mantel was arrayed with pine cones and other autumn decorations. Above the mantel was a large portrait of Christa-Marie. In the painting she sat in a velvet chair. It had to have been painted right around the time Byrne met her, that dark night in 1990.
A few moments later the door opened and a man entered.
Benjamin Curtin was in his early fifties. He had thick gray hair, swept straight back, a strong jaw. His suit was tailored to perfection and might well have cost what Byrne made in a month. Curtin was probably twenty pounds heavier than he looked.
Byrne introduced himself. He did not produce his identification. He was not there in any official capacity. Not yet.
'It's a pleasure to meet you, detective,' Curtin said, perhaps to remind Byrne what he did for a living. Curtin had a Southern accent. Byrne pegged him as Mississippi money.
'And you, counselor.'
There, Byrne thought. Everyone knows their jobs.
'Is Liam still keeping the peace down there?'
Down there, Byrne thought. Curtin made it sound like the boondocks. He was referring to Judge Liam McManus, who everyone knew was going to run for the Philadelphia Supreme Court in a year.
'We're lucky to have him,' Byrne said. 'Rumor is he won't be there for much longer. Next thing you know he'll be living in Chestnut Hill.'
Curtin smiled. But Byrne knew it was his professional smile, not one that held any warmth. The attorney gestured to a chair on the other side of the desk. Both men sat down.
'Can Charlotta get you anything? Coffee? Tea?'
'I'm fine, thanks.'
Curtin nodded. The door behind Byrne was closed.
'So, what brings you here to visit Ms. Schцnburg, detective?'
'I'm afraid I can't really get into anything too specific, but I will say that she may have information about an open investigation being conducted by the Philadelphia Police Department.'
Curtin looked slightly amused. 'I'm intrigued.'
'Well, as I'm sure you're aware, Ms. Schцnburg no longer lives a public life. She is by no means a recluse, but, as I'm sure you can appreciate, she does not circulate in any of the social circles to which she once belonged.'
'She has almost constant companionship here, so I'm afraid I don't see how she could possibly be involved in anything that has taken place recently in Philadelphia.'
'That's what I'm here to determine, Mr. Curtin. But I have a few questions before I meet with her.'
'Is she suspected of a crime?'
'No,' Byrne said. 'Absolutely not.'
Curtin stood, walked to the window, looked out. He continued to speak without turning around. 'I must tell you that in the few years she has been out of prison there have been no fewer than a hundred requests for interviews with her. She is still very much the object of fascination not only with people in the world of classical music but also with the basest denizens of the tabloid world.'
'I'm not here to write something for the Enquirer,' Byrne said.
Curtin smiled again. Practiced, mirthless, mechanical. 'I understand. What I'm saying is, all these requests have been presented to Christa-Marie and she has categorically turned them all down.'
'She contacted me, Mr. Curtin.'
Byrne saw Curtin's shoulders tense. It appeared that he had not known this. 'Of course.'
'I need to ask her a few questions, and I want to know what her general mental state is. Is she lucid?'
'Most of the time, yes.'
'I'm not sure what that means.'
'It means that much of the time she is rational and fully functional. She really would not have any problem living on her own, but she chooses to have a full-time psychiatric nurse on the premises.'
Byrne nodded, remained silent.
Curtin walked slowly back to the desk, eased himself into the sumptuous leather chair. He placed his forearms on the desk, leaned forward.
'Christa-Marie has had a hard life, detective. From the outside, one might think she led a life of glamour and privilege and, up until the incident, she did enjoy the many rewards of her talent and success. But after that night, from the interrogations and subsequent allocution, to her eighteen months at Convent Hill, to her incarceration at Muncy, she-'
The words dropped like a Scud missile. 'Excuse me?'
Curtin stopped, looked at Byrne.
'You said Convent Hill?' Byrne asked.
Convent Hill Mental Health Facility was a massive state-run mental hospital in central Pennsylvania. It had been closed under a cloud of suspicion in the early 1990s after nearly one hundred years of operation.
'When was Christa-Marie at Convent Hill?'
'She was there from the time she was sentenced until it closed in 1992.'
'Why was she sent there?'
'She insisted on it.'
Byrne's mind reeled. 'You're telling me that Christa-Marie insisted on being sent to Convent Hill? It was her choice?'
'Yes. As her attorney I fought against it, of course. But she hired another firm and made it happen.'
'And you say she was there for eighteen months?'
'Yes. From there she went to Muncy.'
Byrne had had no idea that Christa-Marie had spent time at the most notoriously brutal mental-health facility east of Chicago.
While Byrne was absorbing this news a woman walked into the room. She was about forty and wore a smart navy blue suit, white blouse.
'Detective, this is Adele Hancock,' Curtin said. 'She is Christa- Marie's nurse.'
Byrne rose. They shook hands.
Adele Hancock was trim and athletic, had a runner's body, close- cropped gray hair.
'Miss Schцnburg will see you now,' the woman said.
Curtin stood, grabbed his coat, his briefcase. He rounded the desk, handed Byrne a linen business card. 'If there is anything else I can do for you, please do not hesitate to call me.'
'I appreciate your time, sir.'
'And give Liam my best.'
Sure, Byrne thought. At the next curling match.
Benjamin Curtin nodded to Adele Hancock and took his leave.
Byrne was led down a long dark-paneled hallway past a room that held a grand piano. On that night twenty years ago he had not visited this wing of the house.
'Is there anything I should know before I meet with her?' Byrne asked.
'No,' Hancock said. 'But I can tell you that she has not spoken of anything else since your call.'
When they reached the end of the hallway, the woman stopped, gestured to the room at the end. Byrne stepped inside. It was a solarium of sorts, an octagonal room walled by misted glass. There were scores of huge tropical plants. Music lilted from unseen speakers.