Chapter 33


    Joseph Novak sat in Interview A, one of the two cramped and oppressive interrogation rooms at the homicide unit. They did not have much, and they probably wouldn't have been able to bring him in without his consent, but he'd run. People don't realize that once you run from the police it opens a big can of possibilities. It immediately establishes a hostile relationship. What might once have been a conversation that moved gently from casual to mild inquisitiveness now began with doubt and suspicion.

    Even if you had to cut people loose, sometimes you got lucky. A lot of it had to do with the nature of the case itself, the heat generated not only within the department and the district attorney's office but also with the public. If a case broke open in the public consciousness, pressure was brought to bear on law enforcement to produce results, therefore detectives put the pressure on DAs, who worked a little harder on judges, and as a result search warrants and body warrants were granted with a little more leeway. When you searched a house or car you never knew what the search would produce. Warrants were the handmaidens of criminal charges, even when you had no idea what you were looking for.


    They let Novak simmer in Interview A for a few minutes. Interview A at the unit didn't look anything like the interrogation rooms on TV. On TV the rooms had soft gray walls, dramatic lighting, clean carpeting, expensive furnishings, and were usually the size of an average living room. In reality, at least in Philly homicide, the real room was about six by eight, not much bigger than your average jail cell - which was not an accident of design.

    There were no windows, just the two-way mirror, which was not much bigger than a magazine. Then there were the bright fluorescent lights overhead, the bolted-down chairs, and the short-legged table. No matter how often the room was cleaned, or even painted, it held onto the faint odors of urine and bleach. All in all, it was the Philadelphia equivalent of a visit to George Orwell's Room 101. Or so the Homicide Unit hoped.

    If you had claustrophobia issues and you heard that door close, the bolt slide on the other side, you started to come apart. More than one tough guy had blurted a confession after an hour or two inside Hotel Homicide.


    Jessica sat across from Novak. Byrne stood, leaning against the wall next to the observation window. Novak sat dispassionately in the bolted- down chair, his face void of all expression.

    Byrne put the large file box on the table. It was almost empty but Novak didn't need to know that. Novak glanced at the box, then turned his attention back to Byrne.

    'Now, where were we?' Byrne said.

    Novak said nothing.

    'We were having such a nice conversation. Why did you run?'

    Novak still said nothing.

    'Where were you heading?'


    Byrne let the questions float for a few moments, then reached out his hand. Jessica handed him her iPhone. Byrne turned the screen toward Novak and began to scroll through the series of pictures Jessica had taken of Novak's bedroom.

    Novak scanned the photos, remained impassive.

    'This is quite an interesting collage,' Byrne said.

    Novak took a moment. 'Is it common practice for the police to be invited into someone's home, then to take covert photographs?'

    'Common?' Byrne asked. 'No, I don't suppose it is.'

    'I'm sure there are a number of privacy laws that have been violated here. My attorneys will have a lot of fun with this. Search and seizure, for one.'

    'It's my recollection that you invited us into your home, Mr. Novak.' Byrne turned to Jessica. 'Is that how you remember it, detective?'

    'It is.'

    'There were no jackbooted thugs kicking in your door, no one rappelling down the side of your building and smashing in your windows. Just three people talking, two of whom were invited in.' Byrne tapped the photos on the cellphone screen. 'All of this was in plain view.'

    Novak didn't react.

    'Anything you'd like to share with us?' Byrne asked.

    'Such as?'

    'Such as why you have a room dedicated to the history of homicide in the City of Brotherly Love?'

    Novak hesitated. 'It's research. I am a fan of true crime stories.'

    'As you might imagine, so am I,' Byrne said. He indicated one of the photos. 'I remember many of these. In fact, I worked some of the cases.'

    Novak said nothing.

    Byrne tapped the iPhone screen, selecting another photograph. This one displayed a section of the room devoted to the Antoinette Chan case. It was a collage of clippings from the original stories in the Inquirer, Daily News and the tabloid Report, as well as from follow-up stories when Kenneth Beckman had been brought in for questioning.

    'I see you are following the Antoinette Chan case,' Byrne said.

    Novak crossed his hands in his lap, began to rub a finger over his left fist. A classic self-touch gesture. They were getting into a discomfort zone. 'It is an interesting case. One of many. I have research going back one hundred years. I'm sure you'll agree, this city has no shortage of crimes against persons.'

    Byrne held up his hands, surrendering the point. 'You'll get no argument here,' he said. 'But let's talk about current cases first, okay?'


    'What did you find interesting about the Chan case?' Byrne asked.

    Novak leaned back in his chair, looked down, breaking eye contact with Byrne. A disconnect. 'It was particularly brutal, I thought. The weapon used was a claw hammer, if I remember correctly.'

    'That's correct.'

    'It seems an intimate act, using such a weapon,' Novak said, looking up briefly, then quickly away. 'A lot of passion.'

    'Do you know a man named Kenneth Beckman?' Byrne asked.


    The answer came way too fast. As soon as it left his lips, Jessica saw that Novak knew it was the wrong move.

    'But you went to grade school with him,' Byrne said. 'Little Kenny was in your class from second through sixth grades.'

    'He was?'

    'No,' Byrne said. 'At least, I don't think he was. The point is, based on your quick answer he might have been someone you knew, yet you said no without even giving it a moment's thought. Why was that?'

    Novak shifted in his seat. 'This man you're asking me about - I take it he was in the photo lineup you showed me at my apartment?'


    'I don't know anyone by that name.'

    Byrne reached into the box, slid the photo lineup across the table. Novak looked at it, his eyes carefully roaming across the six faces. This was clearly for show. He shook his head.

    Byrne jabbed the photo on the iPhone screen, enlarging it. It was a news clipping of the Antoinette Chan case. 'You said you were doing research. What kind of research?'

    'I'm writing an opera.'

    'An opera?'

    'Yes,' Novak said. He shifted his weight again in what Jessica knew to be an uncomfortable steel chair. 'It is an epic story of crime and punishment in this city. It covers more than a hundred years. What you are looking at here is my research.'

    'Some of your research into the Antoinette Chan case named Kenneth Beckman as a suspect.'

    Novak hesitated. 'I can't remember every person's name. Real names are not important to the theme of my work.'

    'What is the theme of your work?'

    'Crime, punishment, guilt, redemption.'

    'Kenneth Beckman is dead.'

    Nothing. No reaction.

    'He was murdered,' Byrne continued. 'His body was found at the same crime scene where Antoinette Chan was found.'

    Novak remained silent.

    'Hell of a twist, no?' Byrne said. 'I'm seeing that as the end of the first act.'

    Novak looked up, a smug look on his face. It was not the look of someone with nothing to hide but rather of one who has very carefully hidden everything.

    'If he was involved in the murder of Antoinette Chan, I might make reference to karma, fate, all that. None of it has anything to do with me.'

    'So the name Kenneth Beckman means nothing to you?'


    'What about the name Sharon Beckman?'

    'Is that his wife?'

    Byrne just stared.

    Novak fashioned a thin smile, shook his head. 'Is this the part where you say "Did I say wife? I didn't say wife. How did you know it wasn't his daughter or sister?" Is this where you say these things, detective?' Novak clasped his hands in his lap. 'I saw Sleuth. The original film, that is. The one with—'

    'Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.'

    This time Novak's look said touche.

    'You still haven't answered my question,' Byrne said.

    Novak stared at the floor.

    'Mr. Novak? Does the name Sharon Beckman mean anything to you?'

    Novak looked up. 'No.'

    Byrne let the exchange settle for a few moments. Then he removed the clear plastic evidence bag containing the sample of Atriana paper.

    'Do you recognize this?' Byrne asked.

    Novak took the evidence bag from Byrne, held it up to the fluorescent light. The edge of the distinctive watermark was clear.

    'I do.'

    'Where do you recognize it from?'

    'I'm familiar with the line. It's called Atriana.'

    'What is Marcato LLC?'

    Pause. 'It's a publishing company.'

    'Books? Magazines?'


    Byrne nodded. 'And you use this paper?'

    'Yes,' Novak said. 'I use the paper to bind special editions.'

    'Where would I find a copy of one of these editions?'

    'They are all over the world.'

    'When was the last time you purchased this paper?' Byrne asked.

    'I don't recall.'

    'If we search your apartment will we find this paper? Maybe cut into five-inch-wide strips?'

    'No,' Novak said. 'All the paper I had was stolen. Someone broke into my house.'

    'Oh yeah? When was this?'

    'Six months ago.'

    'Did you report it to the police?'


    Novak was certainly smart enough to know that they would look this up. He probably would not have said this if it weren't true. 'What else was taken?'

    'A watch, an MP3 player.'

    'And paper,' Byrne added.

    No reply.

    Byrne stared at the man for a few moments, as if commiserating with him over the strange state of the world. 'Well, I was at your place this morning, and I have to say that if I had broken in I would've found a few more items of value than just a wristwatch, a Nano, and some paper. Some of your audio equipment would go for more than a few bucks on the corner, don't you think? Pioneer Elite, Mcintosh. This is serious jelly.'

    'I didn't have all that equipment then.'

    'Ah, okay,' Byrne said. 'I'm sure you still have the receipts from when you purchased the equipment, yes? We may want to look at them.'

    Novak remained stone-faced. 'I could probably find them.'

    'Great,' Byrne said. 'That would help a lot.'

    Jessica excused herself, stepped out of the interview room. She got on the phone to West Division detectives, made her request. A few minutes later she got a fax of the incident report. Novak was telling the truth. At least about the break-in. She stepped back into the interview room, handed the fax to Byrne. He read it, looked at Novak.

    'It appears you were telling the truth,' Byrne said.

    'Imagine that.'

    Byrne put the fax into the binder, closed it. 'Yet you know what I find odd?'

    'What is that?'

    'With all your meticulous research into the Antoinette Chan case, you do not remember the name Kenneth Beckman. His name was in the papers - on television, too.'

    Novak shrugged. 'I must have missed it.'

    'Imagine that.'

    'You can see why we might be interested here, Mr. Novak.' Byrne held up the bag with the paper sample. 'Here is an item belonging to you, and it was found at the scene of a homicide.'

    'It was an item stolen from me,' Novak said. 'And while the injustice that was done to me pales in comparison to what was done to Mr. Beckman I am just as much a victim in this as he.'

    Byrne took it all in, waited a few moments. 'Sounds positively operatic.'

    For a few moments Novak said nothing. Then, almost on cue: 'I believe we have reached the point where I should contact my attorney.

    Among other things, I'm sure he will be interested in the photographs you have of my personal and private property, and how they were obtained.'

    Byrne looked at Jessica. She held up her iPhone so that Novak could see the screen. She tapped a few icons and a moment later they all watched the progress bar move left to right. The images had been deleted. Byrne looked back at Novak.

    'What photographs?' Byrne asked.

    The two men stared at each other for a few seconds.

    'We're almost done here,' Byrne finally said. 'If you'll excuse us for a moment.'

    Byrne stepped out of the room, closed the door, slid home the bolt. He bumped a fist with Jessica. They had, of course, printed the images from her iPhone before starting the interview. In addition, while holding up her iPhone in the interview room, she had also taken Joseph Novak's picture.

    They met with Dana Westbrook in the coffee room. They watched Novak on the monitor.

    'Unfortunately, this is not enough to hold him or get a search warrant,' Westbrook said.

    'We have to consider his collage of murder stories, boss.'

    'Not against the law last time I checked. If it was, I might be in jail myself. Last night I watched a double feature of Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs.'' Westbrook checked her watch. They had to be careful about how long they kept Novak. They would soon have to charge him or let him go. They'd all had a refresher course in this recently with the Eduardo Robles fiasco. 'Plus, none of the snapshots would be admissible. No probable cause, and how they were obtained would certainly be explored by any defense attorney.'

    Jessica looked back into the room. Novak had not moved a muscle. He sat with his eyes closed, his long legs crossed in front of him.

    'Can we put him under surveillance?' Jessica asked.

    Westbrook walked back to her office, returned. She had looked at the duty roster. 'I don't have a single warm body available. There may be someone on last-out tonight. I'll talk to the watch commander and see what I can do.'

    Anything could happen between now and then, Jessica thought. Still, it was what it was.

    'Cut him loose,' Westbrook said.


    A few minutes later Jessica and Byrne stood in the duty room, watching Novak saunter toward the hallway that led to the elevators.

    Before Novak rounded the corner he stopped, as if he'd forgotten something. A few seconds later he spun on his heels, walked briskly back, heading directly for Jessica and Byrne.

    What the hell is this? Jessica wondered.

The Echo Man
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