Chapter 9


    Byrne walked down the alley, his senses on high alert, his adrenalin surging. It was odd, to say the least. No matter how fatigued he was - today, on a 1 to 10, he would clock in at a bone-weary 7 - it all seemed to melt away when he got to a crime scene. Crime scenes were crack for investigators. Addictive, euphoric, replenishing, ultimately depleting. There was no other feeling like it. The best meal, the finest wine, even soul-shaking sex did not come close.

    Okay, Byrne thought. Maybe sex.

    He took in the approach to the area where the body had been found. The air was suffused with the stench of rotting fruit coming from the Dumpster a few yards away, and the unmistakable aroma of death coming from the shoe store.

    He walked down the stairs, opened the door. Although the smell was almost overpowering in here, it was not the first thing he sensed. Instead, that was a feeling, an impression that he had just stepped across the boundary of a killer's mind, had just become an interloper in a realm of madness.

    There is a pairing, a balance, a partnership.

    Byrne stopped, waiting for more. Nothing. Not yet.

    In addition to his upcoming appointment with the sleep-study clinic, he had his annual MRI screening. He'd had yearly MRIs for the past five years, ever since he had been nearly fatally injured in a shooting. He knew everyone in the hospital radiology department, and the mood was always light-hearted when he went there, but they all knew what it was about. There was, and always would be, a possibility of a brain tumor. He'd read all the books on symptoms and signs - blackouts, voices in your head, sometimes unexplained smells.

    In a separate incident, many years earlier, he had confronted a suspect in a bar beneath the Walt Whitman Bridge. During the course of the arrest Byrne had plunged into the frigid Delaware River, locked in combat with the suspect. When he was pulled out of the water Byrne was declared dead. One full minute later he came to.

    Not long after that the visions had started. They were never fullblown apparitions. He did not show up at a scene, close his eyes, and see any sort of recreation of the crime in Technicolor and THX audio. Instead, it was more of a feeling. Sometimes it crossed over into the dominion of sense and sensation, but mostly he got a feel for the victim, the perpetrator. A thought, a dream, a desire, a habit.

    Byrne had been to group-therapy sessions of every kind, even going to a regression-therapy group that tried to take him back to that moment when he'd plunged into the river, an attempt to bring him back to the person he had been before the incident. Byrne now knew that was impossible.

    The visions had diminished over the ensuing years as had the accompanying migraines. These days they were few and far between.

    He had not had anything close to a full-blown migraine lately, but he knew something was happening inside him. More than once, in the last few months, he had experienced something... not pain, more of a presence, a thickness in his head, along with a slight blurring of vision. And with these feelings came the clearest inner visions he'd ever had, now accompanied by sounds. Then, sometimes, a blackout.

    He was still undecided on whether or not to mention these things to his doctor. Telling a doctor something like this only led to more tests.


    He stepped into the room where a dead man lay on the floor. Byrne's heart picked up a beat, quickening with the knowledge that a killer had stood in this spot no more than twenty-four hours earlier, breathing the same air.

    Just when he was about to begin his routine, a warm sensation filled his head. He held onto the door jamb for a second, attempting to ride it out. With the warmth came the knowledge of...

    . . . something that has burned for many years, a feeling of loss and desire, a dark passion that will forever be unfulfilled, a love story unwritten, unwritable, the hunger to create a legacy . . .

    Byrne knelt down, snapped on a latex glove, then instantly thought better of it. He removed the glove. He needed the feel of the flesh. A dialogue happened between the skin of the dead and his senses. A superior officer, or a representative of the medical examiner's office would surely object. That didn't matter at the moment. He was alone with the dead, alone with what had happened in this room, alone with the rage that drove someone to brutally take a life.

    Alone with himself.

    Kevin Byrne reached out and touched a finger to the dead man's lips. He closed his eyes, listened, and the dead man spoke.

The Echo Man
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