Chapter 11


    The Beckman house was a gaunt and peeling postwar row house on West Tioga Street, in the Nicetown area of North Philadelphia. Nicetown was a blue-collar section of the city that was slowly recovering after three decades of slow decline, a slide culminating in the Tastykake company moving out of the area in 2007. At one time it was rumored that Trump Entertainment would be building a casino on Hunting Park Avenue. It never happened. The only gambling being done in Nicetown these days was among those residents and store owners debating whether or not to hang onto their property.

    Before leaving the Roundhouse, Jessica asked Josh Bontrager to run a check on Kenneth Arnold Beckman. Bontrager would call if there was anything to report.


    When Jessica and Byrne pulled to a stop in front of the Beckman house, near Schuyler Street, it began to rain. The wind picked up, and when they stepped onto the porch wet leaves gathered at their feet.

    Jessica rang the bell three times before noticing that there was a wire hanging out from the bottom of the rusted panel. The bell didn't work. A quick look at the crumbling porch, with its leaning support pillars and brickwork desperately in need of tuck pointing, explained why. She knocked on the door, gently at first. The second time she knocked harder. Eventually they heard the deadbolts begin to turn. There were three of them.

    The woman who answered the door was a hard forty. Her platinum hair was perm-fried, her make-up looked like it had been applied with a paper towel. She wore black Capri pants and battered pink running shoes. A lighted cigarette hung from the corner of her mouth.

    Looking Byrne up and down, she tossed a sideways glance at Jessica.

    'Are you Mrs. Beckman?' Byrne asked.

    'Well, now,' she replied. 'That would depend on two things, wouldn't it?'

    'And what would those two things be?'

    'Who you are and what the fuck you want.'

    Oh boy, Jessica thought. We've got a real charmer here.

    Byrne took out his ID, badged the woman. She stared at it far too long. Jessica figured this was an attempt on the woman's part to establish some sort of power dynamic. What the woman didn't know was that Kevin Byrne could outlast a glacier. She looked at Jessica, raising a painted-on eyebrow. Jessica reached into her pocket, showed the woman her ID. The woman sniffed, turned back to Byrne.

    'Well, that answers one of my questions,' she said.

    'May we come in?' Byrne asked.

    The woman blinked a few times, as if Byrne was speaking another language. 'Can you hear me?' she asked.


    'Can you hear my voice?'

    'Yes,' Byrne said. 'I can hear your voice.'

    'Good. I hear you too. We can talk right here.'

    Jessica sensed Byrne's gloves coming off. He pulled out his notebook, flipped a few pages. 'What's your first name, ma'am?'

    Pause. 'Sharon.'

    'Is your husband Kenneth Arnold Beckman?'

    The woman snorted. 'Husband? That's one way of putting it.'

    'Are you married to him, ma'am?'

    The woman took a long drag on her cigarette. Jessica noted that the nicotine stains on her fingers reached down to her knuckles. She blew out the smoke, and with it her answer. 'Barely.'

    'When was the last time you saw him?'


    'Right now I just need you to answer the question, ma'am. I'll explain why in a moment.'

    Another drag. Jessica estimated that, if they were going to get through the basic questions at this pace, Sharon Beckman would go through a pack and a half. 'Yesterday afternoon.'

    'About what time?'

    Another sigh. 'About three o'clock.'

    'And where was this?'

    'It was at the MGM Grand in Vegas. I'm a dancer there.'

    Byrne stared, the woman stared. She rolled her eyes.

    'It was right about where you're standing,' she said. 'I think he said something like "Clean the kitchen, you lazy fucking bitch." Real Hallmark moment.'

    The wind picked up again, blowing a thin cold rain across the porch. Byrne moved a few feet to his right, making sure that Sharon Beckman caught the rain directly in her face.

    'Was he alone at the time?'

    'Yeah,' Sharon Beckman said, stepping back a foot. 'For once.'

    'And he did not come home last night?'

    The woman snorted. 'Why break with tradition?'

    Byrne pressed on. 'Does anyone else live here?'

    'Just my son.'

    My son, Jessica thought. Not our son.

    'How old is he?'

    The woman smiled. Her teeth were the same color as her tobacco- stained knuckles. 'Why, officer. That would be giving away my age.' When Byrne didn't respond, didn't budge, didn't seem to be weak- kneed by the woman's coquettish charms, she repositioned her scowl, hit her cigarette again, and said, 'He's nineteen. I had him when I was six.'

    Byrne made the note. He then asked her what the kid's name was. She told him. Jason Crandall.

    'Where does your husband work?'

    'Hey. You writing a fucking book here? My autobiography, maybe?'

    'Ma'am, we're just trying to—'

    'No. What you need to do is tell me what this is about or we're done here. I know my rights.'

    Jessica knew the notification was coming, so she watched the woman's face as she took in the news. You could tell a lot from the initial reaction to the news that a loved one has been killed. Or even one not so loved.

    'Mrs. Beckman, your husband was murdered yesterday.'

    The woman drew a sharp intake of breath, but other than that betrayed nothing. Except, perhaps, for a slight shake in her hands, which deposited a long cigarette ash on the floor. She stared out at the street for a moment, turned back. 'How did he get it?'

    Get it, Jessica thought. Most people said 'What?' or 'Oh my God' or 'No!' or something like that. How did he get it? No, not too many people ask how the deceased became deceased. That usually came a bit later in the conversation.

    'May we come in, ma'am?' Byrne said. 'It's getting a little nasty out here.'

    The news had undone the woman's resolve, as well as her animosity. Without saying a word, she opened the door and stepped to the side.

    They entered the house, a standard porchfront-style row house, large by Philly standards, probably measuring around 1500 square feet on three floors. It was quickly degenerating, already long past its sell- by date.

    The living room was directly to the left, with a hallway leading to a kitchen and a stairway at the back of the house. The walls were painted a cheerless, faded baby blue. The furniture was worn, mismatched, spring-shocked. A half-eaten Weight Watchers dinner sat on a coffee table, next to an overflowing ashtray. Cat hair covered nearly every surface. The place smelled like microwave popcorn.

    Sharon Beckman did not offer them a seat. Jessica would have passed on that offer anyway.

    'Ma'am,' Byrne said. 'We're here because your husband was a victim of homicide. We're trying to find out who did this, and bring that person to justice.'

    'Yeah? Well, look in the fucking mirror,' the woman spat.

    'I understand your anger,' Byrne continued. 'But if there's anything you can think of that might help us, we would really appreciate it.'

    The woman lit another Salem off the first cigarette, held them both for a few moments, one in each hand.

    'Can you think of anyone who might have had a problem with your husband?' Byrne asked. 'Someone he owed money to? Someone with whom he had a business problem?'

    The woman took a full five seconds to answer. Maybe she did have something to hide.

    'Do I need a lawyer?' Sharon Beckman asked. She butted out the short cigarette.

    'Have you done anything wrong, Mrs. Beckman?' Byrne asked. It was Cop Speak 101. Standard across the world when police arrive at the lawyer moment.

    'Plenty,' she said.

    Wrong answer, Jessica thought. The woman was trying to be cute, but she didn't realize that a picture was being painted, and every stroke mattered.

    'Well, then, I can't answer your question,' Byrne said. 'If you feel the need for counsel at this time, by all means call your attorney. I can tell you that you are not suspected of anything. You are a witness, and a very important witness. All we need to do is ask you a few questions. The more you tell us, the likelier it will be that we can find the person who did this to your husband.'

    Jessica made another quick perusal of the room. There were no photographs of the Beckmans on the mantel over the bricked-in fireplace, no soft-focus wedding day portraits in tacky gold-painted frames.

    'If you'll just bear with us a little longer,' Byrne continued, 'we'll get the information we need, and we'll leave you to your thoughts and your arrangements.'

    Sharon Beckman just stared. Byrne led her through the rest of the standard questions, giving her the standard assurances. He concluded by asking her if she had a photograph of her husband.

    While Sharon Beckman was in the hallway, going through a legal- sized cardboard box, looking for the photograph, the front door opened.

    The kid who entered looked younger than nineteen. Stringy blond hair, surfer cool, hooded, stoned eyes. When he saw Byrne he must have figured him for a cop, and he shoved his right hand deep into his baggy shorts. Dope pocket.

    'How ya doin?' the kid mumbled.

    'Good, thanks,' Byrne said. 'Are you Jason?'

    The kid looked up, shocked, like there was no way that Byrne could have possibly gotten this information. 'Yeah.' Barely audible. The kid leaned back on his heels, as if that might increase the distance between them. Jessica could smell the marijuana on his clothes from ten feet away.

    'Kenny's dead,' Sharon Beckman said, walking back into the room, a pair of old snapshots in her hand. She handed them to Jessica.

    Jason stared at his mother, blinking. It was as if the words hadn't yet reached his brain. 'Dead?'

    'Yeah. Like in not alive anymore?'

    Jessica looked at the kid. No reaction.

    Over the next few minutes Byrne asked Jason the basic questions, got the expected answers. Jason said he had not seen his stepfather in more than three days.

    'Once again, we're sorry for your loss,' Byrne said to them both, putting away his notebook. He dropped a pair of business cards on the cluttered coffee table. 'If you think of anything that might help us, please call.'


    They walked the half-block to the car, adrift on their own thoughts, sizing up the subdued reactions of Beckman's widow and stepson. It was not the usual response they got from notification, to say the least.

    The temperature had dropped a few degrees since they had entered the Beckman house. The rain continued, getting colder. For the first time that year, it felt as if it might snow.


    In the parking lot at the Roundhouse they saw Josh Bontrager getting into one of the detective cars. Spotting them, Bontrager closed the door and crossed the lot. Dennis Stansfield, already in the car, wisely stayed put.

    'What's up, Josh?' Byrne asked.

    'Have you made notification yet?'

    'Just did. What do you have?'

    'I ran Kenneth Beckman,' Bontrager said. 'A couple of things jumped out.'

    'Such as?'

    'Well, at one time he was a person of interest.'

    Bontrager meant that the deceased had been looked at by the police for some sort of crime.

    'What was the job?' Jessica asked.

    'A homicide.'

    Jessica felt her pulse kick up a notch. 'This guy was looked at for a murder? When was this?'


    'How far did the investigation go?'

    'They had him in, but I guess he didn't roll,' Bontrager said. 'The detective working the case kept an eye on the guy for a few years, made a few more notes, but then it went cold. Nothing in the file since '06.'

    'Who was the victim?'

    Bontrager pulled out his notebook. 'A nineteen-year-old girl named Antoinette Chan. Cause of death was multiple blunt-force trauma. Weapon was a claw hammer found at the scene. The weapon had been wiped clean of prints.'

    'What was the date?' Jessica asked.

    Bontrager flipped a few pages. 'March 21, 2002.'

    A cold finger traced a path along Jessica's spine. It was the date that the old codgers had mentioned earlier. She shot a look at Byrne, who also seemed transfixed by the information.

    'I'm going to take a ride over to Record Storage, get the whole story,' Bontrager said.

    'We'll do it,' Byrne said. 'Check out the next of kin in the Chan family, see where they are, who they are. If they held Beckman responsible they may be worth looking at.'

    'No problem.'

    Josh Bontrager got into the car, drove away, a stone-faced Dennis Stansfield in the passenger seat.

    'What do you think?' Jessica asked.

    Byrne took a few moments to answer. He absently ran a finger over the small V-shaped scar located above his right eye, a keloid souvenir of the time he had been grazed by a bullet years ago. Jessica knew this meant the wheels were turning.

    'I think we need to see that original file.' He looked at his watch. 'But first I want to have another word with the lovely and talented Mrs. Beckman.' He looked back at Jessica. 'Funny she didn't mention any of this.'

    'Right. When I asked her if she knew who might have done this and she said "Look in the fucking mirror" I didn't really get it. Now I do. She blames the police.'

    'What a rarity,' Byrne said. 'And she seemed so nice.'

    'Real debutante,' Jessica said. 'I'll run checks on her and the stoned kid. See where they were and what they were doing in March '02.'

    'I'll meet you at Record Storage,' Byrne said. 'Call me if she has any wants or warrants. I don't care if Sharon Beckman did just lose her husband. I'd love to toss her in a cage for a while.'

    'Oh, please,' Jessica said. 'You just like putting women in handcuffs.'

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