Read Richard Montanari Online

Authors: The Echo Man

Richard Montanari (8 page)

    '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.

    'As
ever.'

    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.

Other books

The Holocaust Industry by Norman Finkelstein
Out of the Shadows by Melanie Mitchell
Bond Betrayed by Ryan, Chandra
Roses in Moonlight by Lynn Kurland
Catching the Cat Burglar by Cassie Wright
Erin's Way by Laura Browning
Bracing the Blue Line by Lindsay Paige
The Door to Saturn by Clark Ashton Smith


readsbookonline.com Copyright 2016 - 2022