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