Chapter 31


    At the rear of the building, Joseph Novak's apartment was a large two-bedroom flat with ten-foot ceilings and an open floor plan. The furniture was modern, mostly brushed aluminum and leather. Against one wall, nearly floor-to-ceiling, were CDs in custom-made birch shelves. There had to be a thousand of them. Jessica noticed that they were sectioned off by category: Classical, Electronica, New Age, Jazz. There were also subcategories by composer, artist, era. Brahms, Beethoven, Bach, Enya, Parker, Mingus, Tyner, Mulligan, Chemical Brothers. The effect of sunlight streaming through the windows, playing off the crystal cases in rainbow hues, was dizzying.

    Upon entering the apartment Novak immediately crossed the room to the large desk at the other side and lowered the screen on his laptop, clicked it shut.

    'We won't take up too much of your time,' Byrne said.

    'Not at all,' Novak replied. 'Whatever I can do to help.'

    'Do you know why we're here, Mr. Novak?' Byrne asked.

    Novak sat at the desk, crossed his long legs. 'I'm afraid I do not.'

    Byrne placed a sheet with six photographs on the desk in front of Novak. Kenneth Beckman's picture was in the upper right-hand corner. They decided to start this way, inquiring about Beckman as if they were looking for a witness.


    Jessica watched Novak closely as his gaze fell on the photo lineup. If the man instantly recognized Beckman there was no indication.

    'Do you recognize any of these people?' Byrne asked.

    Novak gave the process a few seconds. 'No,' he said. 'Sorry.'

    'No problem.' Byrne left the photo array on the desk. He leaned against the wall near the large window, looking around the room, especially at the rack of complicated-looking electronic equipment and what might have been a sound mixing board.

    'May I ask what it is that you do for a living?' Byrne asked.

    'I am a recording engineer by trade,' Novak said. 'But I keep my hand in with all aspects of the music world. I review for jazz and classical publications.'

    'Interesting,' Byrne said. 'I'm a fan of classic blues, myself.'

    Novak smiled. 'I have a small but rather interesting collection of old blues. My treasure is the box set of 78s with early recordings of Mary Johnson, Scrapper Blackwell and Kokomo Arnold.'

    'Sweet. Any Roosevelt Sykes?'

    'Not yet.'

    Jessica stepped forward. In a situation like this, she and her partner liked to tag-team the person they were interviewing. If you split the person's attention it gave your partner the opportunity to look around, checking the small details of the room. One wall had a series of shelves with objets d'art on it. Small sculptures, Maori carvings, as well as a unique stainless steel bracelet with a single garnet stone inlaid.

    Jessica turned her attention back to the CDs. 'This is quite an impressive collection of music you have here,' Jessica said.

    'Thank you,' Novak said. 'I've been at it for quite a while. But I did not purchase most of them. Receiving free and promotional CDs for review is one of the perks of being a music critic.'

    'What's the downside?'

    'Listening to terrible music.'

    Jessica scanned the wall. 'So, from all of this music, do you have a favorite composer?'

    Novak smiled again. 'I imagine that is like asking an Eskimo if he has a favorite snowflake. If pressed, for me there is Johann Sebastian Bach, and then there is everyone else.'

    'I'm sorry to impose, but do you think I might use your restroom?' Jessica asked.

    This was another old ploy for investigators. It gave you the opportunity to see a little more of a person's dwelling while they were talking with your partner. Not to mention the opportunity to check out their medicine cabinet and perhaps discover what meds they were taking. Someone's medications could tell you a lot about them. Plus, it was a hard thing for people to say no to.

    Novak hesitated. His stare shifted to the hallway, then back. The question hung in the air.

    'Yes, of course,' he said finally. 'The second door on your right.'


    Jessica walked down the hallway. The kitchen was on the left, the bathroom on the right. At the end of the hall was the bedroom, its door slightly ajar.

    Jessica stepped into the bathroom. It was spotless. On one wall was a large print, a black and white photograph of a man conducting an orchestra. The man was dark-haired, darkly handsome. He wore white tie and tails. Jessica looked at the caption: riccardo muti, 1986. Muti was the Italian conductor who had replaced Eugene Ormandy as the musical director of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1980.

    Jessica peeked into the bamboo wastebasket to the right of the toilet. Empty. She opened the medicine cabinet gently. Gently, because she had once opened a medicine cabinet in a similar situation, without thinking, only to have a few bottles crash loudly into the sink.

    In the cabinet were an array of skincare products. No meds. If Joseph Novak took any medications, he did not keep them in his bathroom.

    When she had exhausted her search, Jessica flushed the toilet. She washed her hands anyway, to keep up the illusion, and because it was a deeply ingrained habit.

    She stepped out of the bathroom, listened. Byrne and Novak were still talking. She stepped to her right, inched open the bedroom door. The bedroom continued the rather industrial look of the apartment. There was a king-size platform bed, a pair of night stands bearing stainless steel lamps with rectangular linen shades.

    But it wasn't the furnishings that nearly took Jessica's breath away. The entire room was covered in paper. She had to look closely to believe what she was seeing. At first she thought it might have been some kind of creative wallpaper. It was not. What she'd at first thought was wall-covering was really hundreds and hundreds of photographs, articles, magazine covers, newspaper clippings, drawings. All of them seemed to be about one subject. Murder.

    Her eyes were drawn to a large corkboard. To it were pinned a number of tabloid pages. The page on top stopped her cold. It was a tear sheet from the sleazy local newspaper The Report. The headline read:

    Pummeled in Pennsport!

    The article was about a brutal murder in 2002. March 21, 2002 to be exact.

    The photograph was of a smiling Antoinette Chan.

    Jessica looked back down the hall, saw no one coming. She took her iPhone out of her pocket, stepped fully into the bedroom, and began to photograph the walls, hoping there was enough light. Then she walked back down the hall. She stepped into the living room, held up her phone.


    Both Byrne and Novak turned to look at her.

    'I'm sorry to interrupt, but there's a call for you.'

    Byrne got up, walked across the living room, took a few steps down the hall. Jessica gestured to the opened bedroom door. Byrne stepped to the opening, took in the room. He stepped back.

    Their gazes met in silent understanding. Byrne flicked a glance toward the front door. She would take the door. He would take Novak.

    They were out of the living room for just a few seconds, but it was long enough. They heard a loud noise. When they returned, the chair in front of the desk was on its back. Novak was gone.

    'Fuck,' Byrne yelled.

    He went for the window and the fire escape beyond. Jessica ran to the door.

    She peeked out into the hallway. It was not that long - there were only four apartments on this floor - and there were stairs at only one end. She hurried over to the elevator. Silence. Novak would not have had time to call the elevator, and make it even one floor. She ran down to the stairs, eased open the door, her hand on the butt of her weapon.

    The stairwell was empty.

    Jessica moved silently down the stairs, her weapon held out front, low. She turned a corner, carried on circling downward, her ears tuned to the sounds around her. Traffic outside, television noise coming from an apartment on the first floor. No footsteps.

    She had to make a decision when she came to the first-floor landing. Continue on to the basement or check the first floor? She opted for the first floor. She eased open the door. It led to a short hallway. The lobby was straight ahead. She still-hunted down the hall. When she came to the lobby she saw Joseph Novak sitting uneasily on one of the chairs. His right foot was tapping nervously.

    Jessica stepped fully into the lobby and was just about to raise her weapon when she sensed another presence. She looked over. It was Josh Bontrager. He was leaning against the front door, a hoagie in one hand, his weapon in the other. He smiled, winked at Jessica just as Byrne came barreling into view in front of the building.

    Byrne entered the lobby, caught his breath. Josh Bontrager ate his sandwich. Jessica stepped forward, holstered her weapon, and took Joseph Novak into custody.

The Echo Man
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