Chapter 16


    At just after ten o'clock Jessica and Byrne got a call from the Medical Examiner's office. The Kenneth Beckman autopsy had been scheduled for nine o'clock that morning, but Tom Weyrich's message said there was something he wanted the detectives to see before the doctor started the cut.

    On the way to the ME's office Jessica made a call to the Department of Human Services. She was told that Carlos had slept through the night - for the first time in two weeks - and was up and playing. Jessica hung up, revisited by the feeling of paralysis, the feeling that, if she didn't make a move on this, Carlos would slip into the system. She had wanted to discuss adoption with Vincent but with the upcoming move on top of them and all the stress involved with that, she had not seen an opening.

    Maybe she would bring it up tonight, she thought. Maybe she would soften Vincent up with a night of inebriated, lamp-smashing sex.


    The Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office was located on University Avenue. The purview of the office, among other things, was to investigate and determine the cause in all sudden, violent deaths in Philadelphia County, including homicides, suicides, accidents, and drug-related deaths.

    In recent years, the MEO had investigated an average of six thousand cases of death annually, of which almost fifty percent required a post-mortem examination. Other functions of the MEO included positive identification, preparation of autopsy reports, and expert testimony in court, as well as grief assistance for family members.

    While Jessica and Byrne waited in the intake room next to the autopsy theaters, they were serenaded by the constant zap of insects, courtesy of the large rectangular blue bug light on the wall. The continuous drone of bugs, mostly blowflies, being flash-fried was maddening.

    Jessica checked the schedule on the wall. It included the autopsies performed the previous week. Tom Weyrich approached them.

    'I don't get it, Tom,' Jessica said. 'There're twelve autopsies and only eleven names.'

    'You don't want to know,' Weyrich said.

    'See, now I have to know,' Jessica said. 'It's my naturally curious nature.'

    Weyrich ran his hand over his chin. Jessica noticed that he had cut himself no fewer than four times while shaving that morning. 'You sure?'

    'Dish it.'

    'Okay, last week we get a call from Penn. It seems someone threw an internal organ onto the front steps of Tanenbaum Hall.'

    The Nicole E. Tanenbaum Hall was on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania and contained, among other things, the Biddle Law Library.

    'Somebody threw body parts?'

    Weyrich nodded. 'What a world, huh?'

    'What a city.''

    'We still had to treat it like normal John Doe remains. We ran all our standard pathology tests, did a standard cut.'

    'I still don't understand why there's no name on the sheet. Is it because you haven't been able to make an ID on the remains?' Jessica asked.

    'Yes and no.'


    'It was a cow stomach.'

    Jessica looked at Byrne. Byrne smiled, shook his head.

    'One question,' Jessica said.


    'Is it still a John Doe, or is it now an Elsie Doe?'

    'Laugh it up,' Weyrich said. 'This job put both my kids through Villanova.'

    Jessica lifted both hands in surrender.

    'I have something to show you,' Weyrich said.

    He wheeled a body into the center of the intake room.


    The body of Kenneth Arnold Beckman rested on the gleaming stainless steel table, face up, covered to just below the chest with a sheet.

    Weyrich directed the overhead light to the victim's right hand. He slipped on a glove, gently pried back the fingers.

    'I wanted you to see this,' he said.

    There, on the pad of the right index finger, was a small drawing, measuring approximately half an inch by one inch.

    'What is that?' Jessica asked.

    'It's a tattoo, believe it or not.'

    'On his finger?'

    'On his finger,' Weyrich said. 'When they cleaned him up to print him they found it.'

    Jessica berated herself for not seeing it at the scene. She put on her glasses, looked closely. It looked like a highly stylized drawing of a lion. The colors were bright and primary, the outlines thick, the overall effect not unlike that of an illustration in a child's coloring book.

    'I've read this guy's sheet,' Jessica said. 'He didn't strike me as the cartoon type.'

    'It takes all types,' Weyrich said. 'I've taken a sample and sent it to the lab. They should be able to tell us the type of ink fairly soon.'

    'You took a sample?' Jessica asked. 'A skin sample?'

    'This is not a regular tattoo. It's a temporary tattoo.'

    Jessica looked again. At this distance, and with skin art this size, she really couldn't tell the difference.

    Weyrich handed her a large magnifying glass. Jessica looked again at the image of the lion. The ink, and its rich color, stood in bright contrast to the blood-leached pallor of the dead man's skin.

    'It's not still wet, is it?'

    'No,' Weyrich said. 'But it is new. I'd say it's been there less than seventy-two hours.'

    When Jessica had been small, she used to go to a variety store in South Philly and buy little tattoos that she could apply simply by getting wet and pressing them on her skin. They usually washed off with one or two runs through the sprinkler, or a single dip in a pool.

    'Does he have any other tattoos?'

    'Surprisingly, no,' Weyrich said.

    'Why do you think this is relevant?'

    Weyrich directed Jessica to look with the magnifying glass at an area on the victim's left shoulder. Jessica repositioned the glass and saw a slight smudge there, a smear no more than a quarter-inch square or so in size. It was the same color as the yellow in the lion tattoo.

    'I think this was done at the same time,' Weyrich said. 'I think the doer may have applied the tattoo, then made this smudge when he turned the body over.'

    Jessica looked closely There were no ridge marks. It was not a fingerprint, indicating that the killer might have worn gloves.

    'Which brings us to the two other pieces of artwork on the body,' Weyrich said. He pulled down the sheet to reveal a section just above the rib cage on the right side. There were the two unmistakable marks left by a Taser, deep purple bruises looking like a vampire's bite.

    'He was Tasered,' Jessica said.

    Weyrich nodded. Jessica calculated the planning involved in this homicide. The cutting of the man's forehead, the measured puncture wound, the shaving of the entire body. It removed the crime from any heat of passion, certainly. This was cold, deliberate, calculated.

    'What about the shaving?' Jessica asked.

    'I think it was done pre-mortem, without benefit of any emollient or shaving cream.' Weyrich pointed to a few areas where the skin was deeply abraded. 'I believe it was done quickly with a hair trimmer, as opposed to a rotary-style shaver, which means he had to press a little harder. Still, he didn't get it all.'

    Jessica made notes. Byrne just listened. This was their usual routine at the ME's office.

    Weyrich then moved the glass to the victim's forehead. He pointed to the lateral laceration at the top. In the brutal light it looked like a mortal wound, as though the killer had been attempting to take off the top of Kenneth Beckman's head.

    'This was done with a straight razor or a scalpel,' he said. 'Our guy took care not to cut too deeply. There is some level of skill here. The cut on the right ear was not nearly so clean.'

    Jessica looked at the victim's ear. It had congealed into a scabrous brown mass. 'Can we tell if the cutter is right-handed or left-handed?' she asked.

    'Not from this wound, I'm afraid. If he is right-handed, he would most likely start at the left side and draw right. That would be the most natural movement. But only if he was straddling the body.' Weyrich leaned over the cadaver and mimicked the motion of drawing a blade over the victim's forehead from left to right. 'Now, if he was up here . ..' Weyrich moved to the head of the table, putting the top of the victim's head near his waist. 'He could achieve the same result as a left-hander, drawing the blade right to left.'

    'And this was done while the victim was still alive?' Byrne said.


    'How did he keep him still?'

    'As well you might ask.' Weyrich pointed out four areas where there were small plum-colored bruises. On either side of the forehead, just above the temple, were contact marks in a circular shape, about a half-inch in diameter. There were also marks on either side of the lower jaw. 'His head was held in place at these four points.'

    'With some kind of vice grip?' Byrne asked.

    'A little more finesse than that, I believe. And a lot more expensive. I think it may have been a device similar to a surgical clamp. Whenever there is any cranial surgery performed, it is imperative, of course, that the patient be immobilized. Fortunately, we do not have that problem in this office. Our patients tend not to fidget much.'

    'Do you think our boy has some medical training?'

    'Could be.'

    Jessica studied the bruises, thought about the horror of having one's head locked into a device. 'Where do you get an item like that?'

    'It's pretty specialized. And expensive. I'll get you a list of medical suppliers.'

    Jessica made a note to follow up.

    'One other thing,' Weyrich said. He pointed at the puncture wound in the forehead. He handed back the magnifying glass to Jessica. She looked at the wound. 'What am I looking for?'

    'See the area right around the puncture? The coloration?'

    Under magnification the puncture did not look like such a clean wound, but rather twisted, shredded tissue, exploding outward like a tiny lava eruption. Jessica saw a small ring around the puncture that appeared to be red. An unnaturally bright shade of red. 'This is not dried blood, I take it.'

    'No,' Weyrich said. 'That would be much darker. This was made with a Magic Marker of some sort. Maybe a felt-tip marker.'

    Jessica looked up at Byrne, then back. 'A Magic Marker?'

    Weyrich nodded.

    'You're saying the killer marked the spot first?'

    Weyrich nodded, politely smug in his findings. 'I've seen stranger things.'

    'Why would he do something like that?'

    Weyrich took the magnifying glass back, pulled the sheet over the body. 'That's above my pay grade, detective,' he said. 'You are the chef de partie here. I'm only the commis.'


    When they stepped out of the MEO, David Albrecht was waiting for them. For any number of reasons he had not been allowed inside the morgue.

    'What did I miss?' Albrecht asked.

    'Bunch of dead people,' Byrne said. 'I yelled "action," but nobody moved.'

    David Albrecht soon dialed into the fact that he wasn't going to get anything out of Kevin Byrne on this matter. He turned to Jessica.

    'Where to?' he asked.

    'We're going to grab some coffee,' Jessica said. 'You're welcome to join us.'


    'You can get some shots of us looking at a menu, putting cream in coffee, fighting over the check,' Byrne said.

    Albrecht laughed. 'Okay, okay. I'll just ramp up the suspense in post.'

    Byrne smiled, winked at Jessica. It wasn't a thaw, but it was a start. Jessica knew that Byrne was not particularly keen on being followed around with a camera. Neither was she.

    Albrecht left his van at the ME's office and traveled with the detectives. They drove down University Avenue.

    'So, are you getting what you want?' Jessica asked.

    'Pretty much,' Albrecht said. 'I was at the district attorney's office earlier this morning. I'm running two story lines at the same time. I'm shooting two of the DAs at work as well. I don't think it's ever been done before.'

    'You mean following both police detectives and district attorneys?' Byrne asked.


    'You mean like every episode of Law and Order?'

    Albrecht went quiet.

    'I'm sure you'll put your own stamp on it,' Jessica said, shooting Byrne a look.


    They stopped at a coffee shop on Spruce Street. Albrecht, sitting two booths away, really did get footage of them looking at menus. On the second cup, he put down the camera and pulled up a chair to the booth.

    'So we're not your only stars?' Byrne asked.

    'No,' Albrecht said, smiling. 'I am painting a vast and varied canvas.'

    'I've been meaning to ask you,' Byrne said. 'Did you shoot any footage of the crowd at the Federal Street scene?'

    'Yeah,' Albrecht said. 'It came out good.'

    'We'd like to take a look at it, if you don't mind. Maybe our bad guy showed up to gloat.'

    'Right, right,' Albrecht said, nodding. 'I'll get that on a disk right away.'

    'We'd appreciate it.'

    The waitress came over with three cups of espresso. They weren't for the table. They were all for Albrecht. Jessica and Byrne exchanged a glance.

    Albrecht saw the look, shrugged. 'Well, you know the old saying. Sleep is a symptom of caffeine deprivation.' He knocked back one of the small cups in a single gulp.

    Byrne tapped the DV camera on the seat next to him. 'So tell me, how did you get into this?'

    Albrecht stirred sugar into his second cup of espresso. 'Well, it was probably my dad. He used to take me to the movies a lot when I was a kid. He was big in the arts, you know. For some reason I gravitated to documentaries at a young age.'

    'Do you remember the film you liked the most?'

    'I think the movie that did it for me was called In the Shadow of the Stars.' He looked between Jessica and Byrne. 'Did either of you ever see it?'

    Jessica had not. She told him so.

    'That was the documentary on the choristers in the opera?' Byrne asked.

    'Yes!' Albrecht said. He looked around. 'Sorry. That was loud, wasn't it?'

    Byrne smiled. 'Not in this place.'

    'Well, when I saw that - at the ripe old age of seven - I saw the possibilities of making movies about regular people. Nothing bores me more than celebrity. I never watch television.'

    'That movie seems a little highbrow for a kid,' Byrne said.

    Albrecht downed a second espresso, nodded. 'Like I said, my dad was big into the arts. I think we saw that film at a fundraiser. I was never the same afterwards. I was especially impressed with the music. The possibilities of sound editing in particular.'

    Jessica suddenly made the connection. 'Wait a minute. Your father was Jonas Albrecht?'


    For more than twenty-five years Jonas Albrecht had been a force of nature in Philadelphia arts, business, and politics - one of the directors of the prestigious Pennsylvania Society. He was a wealthy man, having made his fortune in real estate. He founded a number of organizations, and was deeply involved with the Philadelphia Orchestra until he was tragically killed in a violent carjacking in 2003. Jessica had been on the force at the time, but it was before she had joined the homicide unit. She wasn't sure if the case had ever been closed.

    'It was a terrible tragedy,' Byrne said. 'We're sorry for your loss.'

    Albrecht nodded. 'Thank you.'

    We are the sum of our experiences, Jessica thought. David Albrecht might not be doing what he was doing now if it had not been for the terrible tragedy that had befallen his father. It had taken Jessica a long time to realize that, if it were not for her own life's tragedies, among which was her brother Michael's death in Kuwait in 1991, her life might have taken another path. She had been headed to law school until that fateful day. It was Michael who had been going to follow in their father's footsteps and join the force. Life takes its turns.

    While Byrne and David Albrecht talked documentary film - not one of Jessica's strong suits, she'd been halfway through This is Spinal Tap before she'd realized it was a spoof - she got on her iPhone, did a search for tattoo parlors in Philadelphia. She called a few of them and was told that they did not handle things like temporary tattoos. The last place she called, an emporium on South Street, mentioned a parlor that had recently opened on Chestnut, a place called Ephemera. The girl said they did temporary tattooing and had a good reputation.


    Ephemera was on the second floor of a row house converted into retail space. The first floor was a retail shop selling Asian specialty foods.

    While David Albrecht shot some exteriors of the building, Jessica and Byrne climbed the narrow stairwell, opened the frosted-glass door.

    The front parlor was lit with dozens of candles. The walls were covered in tapestries of magenta and gold. There was no furniture, no stools, just pillows. It smelled of rich incense. There were no customers in the waiting area.

    A few moments later a woman walked through the curtains and greeted them. She was Indian, elfin and delicate, about forty. She wore a turquoise silk kurti and black slacks. 'My name is Dalaja,' she said. 'How may I help you?'

    Jessica took out her ID, showed it to the woman. She then introduced herself and Byrne.

    'Is there something wrong?' Dalaja asked.

    'No,' Jessica said. 'We just have a couple of questions, if you have a few moments.'

    'Yes, of course.'

    Dalaja gestured to the large pillows in front of the window overlooking Chestnut Street. Jessica and Byrne sat down. Well, sat was a loose term for Byrne's action. For a man his size, the best Byrne could do was aim himself at the pillow, then fall onto it.

    'Would you like some tea?' the woman asked when they were settled.

    'I'm fine, thanks,' Jessica said.

    'Would a cup of Masala chai be too much trouble?' Byrne asked.

    The woman smiled. 'Not at all. But it will take a few minutes.'

    'No problem.'

    Dalaja disappeared into the back room.

    'Masala chai?' Jessica asked softly.

    'What about it?'

    'Do you have some sort of secret life I don't know about?'

    'Well, if I told you it wouldn't be secret, would it?'

    Jessica looked around the room. There were glass shelves on the far wall, each featuring a stack of brightly hued clothing. Another glass rack held carved artifacts and jewelry. The sound of modern Indian music floated softly from behind the curtain.

    The woman soon emerged from the back room, sat on a large pillow opposite them. She was so light that she barely made an impression on the pillow. It was as if she floated above it. 'The tea will be ready shortly.'

    'Thanks,' Byrne said.

    'First, if you don't mind, can you tell me what you do here?' Jessica asked.

    'This is a Mehndi parlor.'

    'Could you spell that for me?' Jessica asked.

    Dalaja did, giving her a few alternate spellings. Jessica wrote it all down. 'I'm not sure I know what that means.'

    'Mehndi is a type of skin decoration practiced throughout South Asia, Southeast Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa.'

    'These are temporary tattoos?'

    'Technically no. Tattoos, by definition, are permanent, applied under the skin. Mehndi is temporary, and rests atop the skin.'

    'What is it made out of?'

    'Mehndi is applied with henna. It is mostly drawn on the palms of the hands and the feet, where the levels of keratin in the skin are highest.'

    'And how long does it last?'

    'Anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on the henna paste and where the decoration is placed on the body.'

    A young Indian woman came out of the back with a cup of tea on an ornate black lacquered tray. She was about nineteen, and wore traditional South Asian clothing. She was stunningly beautiful. Jessica went back to her notes, but, after a few seconds, noticed that the girl was still standing in front of them. Jesssica glanced at Byrne. He was looking at the girl with his mouth open, not moving, not speaking. She was that beautiful.


    'Right,' he said finally, closing his mouth and taking the cup and saucer. 'Thank you.'

    The girl smiled and, without a word, withdrew to the back room.

    When she was gone, their hostess reached onto a nearby table and picked up a beautifully bound leather notebook. She handed the book to Jessica, who riffled the pages. The designs were intricate and skillfully drawn. Page after page of complex artwork in a rainbow of colors, drawn mostly on hands and feet.

    'I'm afraid what we're inquiring about is a little different,' Jessica said. 'A little less . . . ornate.'

    'I see.'

    Jessica then caught the aroma of the tea - ginger and honey - and wished she had taken the woman up on her offer.

    'May I show you a photograph?' Jessica asked.

    'By all means.'

    Jessica pulled out her iPhone, enlarged the photograph of the lion tattoo on Kenneth Beckman's finger.

    'Oh, I see,' the woman said. 'This is different.'

    'Do you know what it is?'

    Dalaja nodded. 'This is very small, is it not?'

    'Yes,' Jessica said. 'Maybe one inch long.'

    'It appears to be a style of temporary body art called a transfer. Relatively inexpensive. And the quality, well...'

    It was true. By comparison with the photographs in the leather-bound notebook the lion tattoo looked like it had been drawn with a crayon.

    'I take it you do not offer this service or sell items like this,' Jessica said.

    'We do not. But I believe I can point you in the right direction.'

    'That would be great.'

    'If you will excuse me for a moment.'

    The woman rose, seemingly without effort. She stepped into the back room. She returned a few minutes later with pages from a color printer.

    'I believe this is what you are looking for.'

    She handed a page to Jessica. On it was an exact replica of the lion transfer tattoo.

    'Wow,' Jessica said. 'That's it.'

    Dalaja handed her a second sheet. 'At the top is the website from which I downloaded the image. There are ten others here on the page, but the first company, called World Ink, is the largest. I did not find that exact image on any of the others, but that is not to say it is not sold elsewhere.'

    Jessica and Byrne got to their feet.

    'The chai was delicious,' Byrne said. 'Thanks very much.'

    'You are most welcome,' the woman replied. 'Is there anything else I can do for you?'

    'I believe that is it for now,' Jessica said.

    'Then, for now, alvida.' She spun on her heels and walked toward the back room without making a sound.


    Back at the Roundhouse, Jessica got on the Internet and visited World Ink. In addition to transfer tattoos, the company sold a lot of specialty items, such as pocket calendars, paint sheets, and customized scratch-and-win cards.

    But it was the stock tattoos in which Jessica was interested. And they had hundreds, maybe thousands of designs. Angels, cars, flags, flowers, sports, holiday-themed, myth and fairy-tale, as well as religious and tribal symbols.

    Six pages deep into the online catalog she found the lion design. It was in a collection called TinyToos, and was a perfect match. She took out her cellphone, clicked over to the photograph of Kenneth Beckman's body. There could be no doubt. Unless the victim had put this tattoo on himself - and Jessica had a problem seeing Beckman doing this, it seemed inconsistent with his personality - someone had done it for him. Quite possibly the person who'd strangled and mutilated him.

    Byrne already had three calls in to Sharon Beckman to ask if her husband had a tattoo on his finger.

    Jessica got on the phone to World Ink, and after a few minutes of press one, press five, press two, she pressed 0 until a human being picked up the phone. She identified herself and in short order was passed over to the website-catalog sales manager.

    Jessica explained the bare minimum. After a little hemming and hawing, the man told her that they would be happy to help, but he was going to have to get clearance and they would need some kind of request on paper. Jessica asked the man if a fax on a PPD letterhead would suffice, and he said it would. Jessica scratched a few more notes, hung up the phone. She caught Byrne's attention, gave him the highlights. She held up the photo of the lion tattoo.

    'This design is exclusive to this company,' she said. 'It's an original design. That's not to say that our guy bought it from them, or didn't duplicate it himself - the guy at World Ink said it was fairly easy to do with a scanner, PhotoShop, and the right supplies - but considering the way these tattoos are applied, I think it's a safe bet that Kenneth Beckman did not apply the tattoo himself. Even if it has nothing to do with the case, we can be pretty sure someone did it for him.'

    'Like, for instance, our bad boy.'

    'Could be. Now, if it was him, he might have placed an order online with this company. I'm going to fax them a request for a customer list, people who purchased this tattoo.'

    'Do you think we'll need the DAs office on this?' Byrne asked.


    'Let me call Mike Drummond and give him a heads-up.'

    While Byrne made the call, Jessica printed off the tattoo of the lion. She heard laughter coming down the hall. She looked up to see Nicci Malone - a love-struck, schoolgirl-in-distress Nicci Malone - enter the duty room with Detective Russell Diaz.

    Russell Diaz was the head of a newly formed tactical squad, part of the PPD's Special Investigations Unit, a job originally offered to Kevin Byrne, who had turned it down. The tactical unit was a sort of rapid-response team for high-profile cases involving special circumstances. Diaz had spent ten years with the FBI's Philadelphia field office, but had been traveling too much, he said, and joined the PPD to stay closer to his family. While in the FBI he had worked with Behavioral Science and had consulted with the homicide unit a number of times in the past few years.

    Beyond that, Russell Diaz was a specimen. About six feet tall, cut from stone, close-cropped brunette hair, dreamy eyes. He was given to wearing those tight navy blue PPD T-shirts that showed off his biceps. Oddly enough, he seemed not to notice his impact on members of both the same and opposite sexes, along with everything in between. This made him even more appealing.

    Tomorrow was his first tour in the new unit.

    Diaz noticed Jessica, crossed the room, smiled. 'Hello, detective. Been a while.'

    'Too long,' Jessica said. They shook hands. Jessica had worked with Diaz on a joint task force when she'd been in the auto-theft unit.

    They had taken down an international ring, a gang shipping high-end cars to South America. 'Glad to have you on the team. How is Marta?'

    Marta was Diaz's daughter. To Jessica's understanding she was some sort of musical prodigy. The fact that Diaz, long divorced, was raising her alone vaulted him from appealing to unbelievably adorable.

    'She's great, thanks. Fourteen going on thirty.'

    Jessica glanced down at the stack of papers and books in Diaz's grasp.

    'What is this?' Jessica pointed at the book. Diaz handed it to her. It was a copy of Dante's Inferno.

    'Just a little light reading,' Diaz said, with a smile.

    Jessica thumbed through the book. It was anything but light reading. 'You read Italian?'

    'Working on it. Marta is going to do her sophomore year in Italy, and I want to be able to sound hip to her friends.'


    'Che c'è di nuovo?' Diaz asked.

    Jessica smiled. 'Non molto.'

    As far as she could tell, Diaz had asked her what was new and she'd told him 'not much.' Outside of swear words, that was about the extent of Jessica's Italian.

    Byrne walked into the duty room. Jessica gestured him over. She introduced the two men.

    'Kevin Byrne, Russell Diaz,' she said.

    'Good to meet you,' Diaz said. 'I've heard a lot about you.'


    They batted shoptalk around for a while until Diaz glanced at his watch. 'I'm due back at Arch Street to wrap a few things.' The Philadelphia FBI field office was at 6000 Arch. Diaz gathered his things, including the copy of Dante's Inferno. He put it all in his duffel, slung it over his broad shoulder. 'Drinks later?'

    Standing behind Diaz, Nicci Malone nodded like a bobble-head doll.


    Jessica and Byrne spent the next hour typing up the witness statements collected from the Federal Street scene, which amounted to little more than I don't know anything, I didn't hear anything, I didn't see anything.

    'I think you should stay on that tattoo company,' Byrne said. 'I'll see if I can red-light the lab on the brand of paper used to gift-wrap Beckman's head.'

    'Sounds like a plan,' Jessica said.

    In the background the duty-room phone rang. Out of habit, Jessica and Byrne both looked at the assignment desk, which was positioned more or less in the middle of the cluttered room. Nick Palladino was up on the wheel. They saw him reach into the desk for a notification form, which could only mean one thing.

    The homicide unit was contacted every time there was a suspicious death. Some turned out to be accidents, some turned out to be suicides. But every time a non-hospital, non-hospice death occurred, anywhere in the county of Philadelphia, only one phone rang.

    Jessica and Byrne turned their attention back to the case, to each other. Or tried to.

    A few minutes later, out of the corner of her eye, Jessica noticed someone crossing the duty room. It was Nick Palladino. He was heading straight for Jessica and Byrne, a dour look on his face. For the most part, Dino was a pretty affable guy, even-tempered, at least for a South Philly Italian. Except when he was on a job. Then he was all business.

    This was one of those times.

    'Please don't tell me we have another body on this case,' Jessica said. 'We don't have another body on this case, do we, Dino?'

    'No,' Nick Palladino said, slipping on his coat. 'We don't.' He grabbed a set of keys off the rack, along with a two-way handset. 'We have two.'

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