Read Richard Montanari Online

Authors: The Echo Man

Richard Montanari (10 page)

    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.'

    Byrne
smiled.

    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?'

    'Sure.'

    '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.

 

    

Chapter 8

    

    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.

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