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.