Chapter 8


    The Homicide Unit at the Roundhouse was a study in controlled bedlam. There were ninety detectives in the unit, working three shifts, seven days a week. The first floor was a winding labyrinthine warren of half-round rooms which made it a real challenge to place desks, file cabinets, computer tables - in other words, everything that might be needed in an office. Not that anyone went out of their way to give even a simple nod to the concept of decor in this place.

    But there was a system, and that system worked. Philly Homicide had one of the highest solve rates of any homicide division in the country.

    At noon, with most of the detectives at lunch or on the street, Jessica looked up to see Dana Westbrook crossing the room.

    Sergeant Dana Westbrook was the new day-work supervisor, taking over for the retired Ike Buchanan. In her late forties, Westbrook was the daughter of a retired police inspector, and had been raised in Kensington. She was a Marine veteran of Desert Storm.

    At first glance she was not the most intimidating figure. With her bobbed cut, just turning gray, and measuring in at just over five-four, she towered over no one. But she was in great physical shape, still adhered to the Marine circuit-workout four days a week, and could outrun and outperform women on the force half her age, as well as many of the men.

    Being a woman in what was still and would probably always be a boys' club, her military training came in handy.

    As in all police departments, indeed any paramilitary organization, there was a chain of command. From the commissioner to deputy commissioner, from chief inspector to staff inspector to captain, all the way to lieutenant and sergeant, then detective, officer, and recruit, it was a highly regimented institution. And shit, as they say in the military, doesn't flow uphill.

    From day one, Dana Westbrook took a lot of shit.

    When a call came in during day work - the eight a.m. to four p.m. shift - the desk detective took the information and brought it to the supervisor on duty. It was then the supervisor's job to initiate and coordinate the first crucial hours of the investigation. A lot of this involved telling men - some of whom had been in homicide for more than twenty years, all of whom had their own way of doing things, certainly their own pace and rhythms - where to go, who to talk to, when to come back. It involved judging their fieldwork, sometimes calling them on the carpet.

    For male homicide detectives, who felt as if they were the Chosen, having someone tell them what to do was not an easy pill to swallow. To be told by a woman? This made the medicine bitter indeed.

    Westbrook sat next to Jessica, opened a new file, clicked her pen. Jessica gave her the basic details, starting with the anonymous 911 call. Westbrook made her notes.

    'Any sign of forced entry to the building?' Westbrook asked.

    'Not sure. The place has probably been broken into many times, but there was no new splintering on the jamb.'

    'What about vehicles parked near the scene?'

    Jessica noticed for the first time that, besides her modest earrings, Dana Westbrook had four empty piercings in her right ear. 'We're running plates in a two-block radius, along with the vehicles parked in the school parking lot, cross-referencing the owners with wants and warrants. Nothing so far.'

    Westbrook nodded, made a note of it.

    'And we could also take a look at some of the footage our budding

    Oscar winner took. I saw Albrecht getting some shots of the crowd across the street.'

    'Good idea,' Westbrook said.

    Sometimes a criminal, especially one guilty of murder, returned to the scene. Police were always aware that a crowd at a crime scene, or one gathered at a funeral, might contain the person they sought.

    'And speaking of Albrecht, how much access does this kid get?' Jessica asked.

    'Within reason,' Westbrook replied. 'He doesn't get inside the ME's office, of course. Or a hospital.'

    'And why are we doing this, again?'

    'He's the deputy commissioner's wife's cousin's son. Or something like that. He's plugged in, let's just put it that way. The deputy commissioner is a Penn State grad, you know.'

    'Is Albrecht allowed to film a crime scene?'

    'Well, word is, the brass is going to see a rough cut of this film and has final approval over it all. If anything compromises an ongoing investigation or is blatantly disrespectful to a victim or a victim's family it won't see the light of day. You can count on that.'

    'So, we have the right to chuck him off a scene?'

    'Absolutely,' Westbrook said. 'Just make sure Kevin doesn't do it when you're going seventy on 1-95.'

    Jessica smiled. It hadn't taken long for Sergeant Dana Westbrook to get up to speed. 'I'll make a note.'

    Westbrook stood. 'Keep me in the loop.'

    'You got it, boss.'

    Until they got an ID on the victim there wasn't too much they could do. The faster you got an ID, the faster you could get information such as where the victim lived, worked, went to school, played, and the faster you could begin to collect witness statements. Once identification was made, a person was also run through the various databases, specifically the National Crime Information Center and its local version, the Philadelphia Crime Information Center.

    The victim was fingerprinted as soon as the body got to the morgue, but all you could do before identification was canvass the area around the crime scene, process any forensic material, and hope for the best. If they couldn't ID the victim, the best hope was that by the next day someone would have heard the news about the body and would start making calls about their husband, brother, son.

    After finishing her initial report, Jessica would head back to the scene. People working early shifts would be getting home soon and just might have something to tell her.

    She made a note to ask Kevin to reach out to a friend of his, a detective who worked out of South Detectives. The more eyes and ears on a homicide, especially at this stage, the better. Divisional detectives knew their turf and their criminals better than anyone.

    Before she could do that she sensed someone nearby. She turned. Dennis Stansfield stood behind her. He was like a virus that she couldn't seem to shake.

    'Can I help you with something, detective?' Jessica asked.

    Stansfield pointed to the notepad on the desk. 'I didn't mean to look over your shoulder.'

    'And yet?'

    'Well, lately I've heard some things about him.'


    'Yeah. Detective Byrne.'

    Jessica closed the folder on her desk, closed her notebook. She spun her chair around, stood up. She was not going to talk to this guy while she was sitting down. 'Like what sort of things?'

    Stansfield glanced around the duty room, looked back, lowered his voice. 'Well, like maybe his heart's not in it anymore.'


    'Yeah, and like maybe he's looking for the door. Like maybe he's not quite the cop he used to be.'

    Jessica nodded. 'Interesting.'

    'I'm just saying, you know? This is what I've heard. And from more than one person.'

    'Well, Dennis,' Jessica said. 'Maybe you're right.'

    Stansfield looked surprised. 'I am?'

    'Yeah. Can I tell him you said this? I'm sure he'd like to hear it, seeing as it's going around.'

    'Well, I'd really prefer you didn't,' Stansfield said. 'See, I was just saying that—'

    'Then again, why don't you tell him yourself?'

    'What do you mean?'

    'He's right behind you.'

    Stansfield spun around to find Kevin Byrne, who loomed over him by about five inches, standing there. It looked for a moment as though Stansfield was going to extend his hand in greeting. It looked for a moment as though Byrne was going to throw Stansfield out a window. Both men then thought better of it.

    'Detective,' was all that Stansfield managed.

    Byrne stared at him until Stansfield got really interested in the time of day. He glanced at his watch, then back at Jessica.

    'I'm going to follow up on the owner of the building,' Stansfield said. 'I'm mobile if you need me.'

    'Yeah,' Jessica said when Stansfield was out of earshot. 'That'll happen.' She turned to Byrne. 'Done with the grand jury already?'

    Byrne shook his head. 'Postponed. They're hearing the Fontana case today.'

    'Did Drummond tell you when you're back on?'

    'Maybe next week.'

    'Sucks.' The longer it went on, the more likely that people were going to catch amnesia.

    Byrne pointed across the room, at the departing Stansfield. 'When did he go on day work?'

    'Today,' Jessica said. 'The boss put him with me this morning. I caught a case.'

    Jessica filled Byrne in on what they had found. They did not have crime-scene photographs yet, but Jessica had taken a few still pictures on her cellphone. She made it a practice never to print off any crime- scene photographs that she took with her own camera, even though there were no rules against it. It just made it a little too likely that personal photographs would get mixed in with official photographs, and things like that were what defense attorneys lived for. PhotoShop had changed everything.

    Byrne stared at the images for a full minute, scrolling through them one by one.

    'No ID yet?' he asked.

    'Not yet,' Jessica said. 'Body's still on scene.'

    Byrne handed back the phone. 'Any witnesses?'

    'Nothing. I'm heading back there in a few minutes.'

    Byrne looked across the room. David Albrecht sat at one of the desks, playing back footage on his camera's viewfinder.

    'Who's the kid with the camera?'

    Jessica explained David Albrecht's presence.

    'Great,' Byrne said. 'Just what we need.'

    Byrne checked the body chart, taking in the general details of the wounds to the victim, the placement of the body. 'Want some company?'

    'I'll drive,' Jessica said.

    'Let me get my stuff out of my car.'

    In the rear parking lot they stopped at Byrne's car. It was a Kia Sedona minivan. Jessica had never seen it before.

    'When did you get this?'

    'It's a loaner from my cousin Patrick. Colleen is going to be moving soon and we're trying to keep the costs down. I'm bringing some of her stuff to a storage locker this week.'

    'Do you like it?'

    'Oh yeah,' Byrne said. 'Kias are true babe magnets. Had a few college cheerleaders flash me the other day.'

    Byrne unlocked the passenger door, reached in, grabbed some things from the back seat. When he closed the door and turned around, Jessica did a double take.

    Kevin Byrne had a stylish leather messenger bag over his shoulder.

    'Oh my God,' Jessica said.


    'Hang on.' Jessica took out her cellphone, opened it, pantomimed dialing a long phone number. A really long phone number. She held up a finger. 'Hi, is this Hell?'

    Byrne shook his head.

    'Yes,' Jessica continued. 'I was calling to get the current temperature. What's that you say? Five below? Snow squalls expected?'

    'Funny stuff,' Byrne said. 'Let me get a table so I can catch the whole act.'

    Jessica smiled, closed her phone. She leaned against the car, crossed her arms. 'I can't believe it. Kevin Byrne carrying a purse. I am so blogging about this.'

    'It's a man bag.'


    'And it's a Tumi. Tumi makes good stuff.'

    'There's no question about that,' Jessica said. 'I have a Tumi purse myself.'

    'This isn't a purse, okay? It's a—'

    'Man bag,' Jessica said.

    'And, just for the record, I never want to hear the words metro and sexual in the same sentence. Okay?'

    'Promise,' Jessica said. Her fingers were secretly crossed behind her back. 'So, what made you decide to do this?'

    Byrne leaned closer. 'It's just getting harder and harder to leave the house, you know? You have to have your keys, your cellphone, your pager, your sunglasses, your regular glasses, your iPod—'

    'Wait. You have an iPod?'

    'Yes, I have an iPod. What's so odd about that?'

    'Well, for one thing, you still buy vinyl records. I just figured in a few years you'd make the giant leap to audiocassettes. Maybe even CDs one day.'

    'I buy vinyl because it's collectible. Especially the old blues.'


    'Remember your uniform days when everything went on your belt? Ami what didn't go on your belt fitted in your shirt pocket?'

    'I remember, but keep in mind there's even less room up there for female cops.'

    'I'm a detective,' Byrne said. 'I've noticed that.'

    I le took a few steps back, gestured to the cut of his new suit, which Jessica had to admit looked pretty good on him. It was a charcoal gray two-button.

    'Think about it,' he said. 'If I put all that stuff in my pockets it would ruin the line.'

    'The line?' Jessica put her hand on the butt of her weapon. 'Okay, who are you and what have you done with my partner?'

    Byrne laughed.

    'Well, now that you carry a bag,' Jessica continued, 'you should keep in mind one of the first things they taught us at the academy.'

    'I may be older than slate, but I seem to recall going to that academy myself. Over on State Road, right?'

    'That's the one,' Jessica said. 'But what I meant by "us" was, well, women.''

    Byrne braced himself, said nothing.

    'They taught us to never, ever, carry your weapon in a purse.'

    There was that word again. Byrne looked at the sky, back at Jessica. 'This is going to go on for a while, isn't it?'

    'Oh yeah.'


    The CSU team was still processing the scene on Federal Street, which now had crime-scene tape crossing both ends of the alley. As always, a crowd had gathered to watch the proceedings. It always amazed Jessica how no one ever saw anything, heard anything, witnessed anything, but as soon as the investigation got underway, as soon as there was some sort of urban circus to attend, everyone was suddenly available to gawk and rubberneck, conveniently off work and out of school.

    When Jessica and Byrne came around the corner there was a meeting of supervisors. Among them was ADA Michael Drummond.

    'Counselor,' Byrne said.

    'Twice in one day,' Drummond replied. 'People will talk.' He turned to Jessica. 'Nice to see you, Jess.'

    'Always a pleasure,' Jessica said. 'But what brings you out here?'

    'I've got court in about an hour, but these were orders from Valhalla. New DA, new initiatives. Anything that happens this close to a school gets priority. My boss wants to watch this one from the beginning. He barks, I fetch.'


    'Copy me in on everything?' Drummond asked.

    'Not a problem,' Jessica said.

    Jessica and Byrne watched as Drummond crossed the street, positioning himself far from the crime scene. Jessica knew why. If an ADA was close to the action, he might witness something, and therefore be called as a witness on his own case, which was grounds for dismissal. It was a game they all knew how to play.

    Jessica watched as Byrne walked up to the mouth of the alley, spoke to the uniformed officer. The uniform pointed to the two buildings behind the crime scene, nodded his head. Byrne took out his notebook, began to jot down details.

    Jessica had seen it before.

    Murder had been done here, and Kevin Byrne was in his element.

The Echo Man
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