Read Richard Montanari Online

Authors: The Echo Man

Richard Montanari (7 page)

    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.

    
Slippage.

    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.

    
They danced.

    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.

    Slippage.

    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.

 

    

Chapter 6

    

    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.

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