Read Richard Montanari Online

Authors: The Echo Man

Richard Montanari (9 page)

    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.

    'You'd
think.'

    '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?'

    'Sure.'

    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.

 

    

Chapter 7

    

    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.

    
What
?

    Rewind.

    
'You
know
.'

    He
let it run. Soon there was another noise, the sound of the lamp clicking on,
and his voice saying, clear as a bell:

    
'2:52
.'

    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.

    
2:52.

    
You
know
.

 

    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-around- at-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.

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