Chapter 36


    The area beneath the Ben Franklin Bridge, at the interchange with 1-95, had long been a refuge for Philadelphia's homeless. For years the police referred to it as The Condos. Jessica parked, found a break in the chain-link fence, made her way beneath the overpass. There were a few dozen people congregated there. Stacked against the fence were stuffed cardboard boxes, bursting plastic bags. Nearby was a stroller with only three wheels. Cups, bottles, milk cartons, fast-food trash. No aluminum cans, of course. Cans were currency.

    There were ten or twelve people on the north side of the encampment, mostly men. They glanced up at Jessica, not reacting in any way. Two reasons. One, she was a woman. Two, even though she was clearly a police officer, or at least a representative of the system, she was not coming in all guns blazing, with the obvious intention of uprooting them.

    There were three distinct camps, with a few men off on their own. Jessica approached the first group, showed them the photographs. No one admitted recognizing anyone. The same with the second and third groups of men.

    As Jessica walked away from the third group, one of the men called out to her. Jessica turned around. It was one of the older guys. He was lying on a thick bed of cardboard.

    'Say, darling, you ever been with a homeless man?' He smiled his keyboard grin, broke into a phlegmy cough. The other two men in his posse chuckled. 'Guaranteed to change your life. You interested?'

    'Sure,' Jessica said. 'All you have to do is take a shower and get a job.'

    The man looked shocked. He got back under his blanket, turned on his side. 'You ain't all that.''

    Jessica smiled, made her way back around the camp, asking the same questions, receiving nothing. The last man pointed to a man on the other side of the embankment, someone Jessica hadn't noticed before. As she approached she saw that the man - who was surrounded by carefully placed trash bags - had his legs covered with what appeared to be a new blanket. As Jessica got closer she saw that it still had its price tag.


    The man was propped against the fence, reading a paperback. Its cover was missing but Jessica could read the spine. Great Expectations.

    'Excuse me. Sir?'

    He looked up. He was black, somewhere between fifty and seventy. He wore a tattered brown corduroy blazer and a yellowed shirt. His tie, like the blanket, looked new. Jessica wondered if there was a price tag on that, too. His eyes were bright and intelligent.


    'May I ask your name?'

    'Abraham Coltrane.'

    Jessica believed the Abraham part. 'Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?' Jessica held up her badge. The man scanned it.

    'Not at all.'

    Jessica held up three of the photographs. 'Do you know any of these men?'

    Coltrane scanned the pictures. 'I do not. Are they men of leisure, such as myself?'

    'They are.'

    Abraham Coltrane nodded. Jessica held up the final picture, a photograph of the fourth man believed to have been involved with the

    2004 murder of Marcellus Palmer. The man's name was Tyvander Alice. 'What about this man?'

    Coltrane looked again. This time Jessica saw the slightest flicker of recognition. 'Again,' he said. 'My regrets.'

    'This picture was taken a few years ago.'

    'I remember everyone I have ever met, madam.'

    She believed he did, which was why she didn't believe the part about him not knowing Tyvander Alice. She took out a five-dollar bill, making sure that the man saw it.

    'Nice blanket,' she said.

    'It provides.'

    Jessica lifted the price tag. 'You have a receipt for this, Mr. Coltrane?'

    'It was a gift from one of my many admirers.'

    'They gave you a gift with the price tag still on it?'

    Coltrane shrugged. 'The young have but a nodding acquaintance with custom, I fear.'

    'Thank God the court system still does,' Jessica said. 'They're really big on it. Indictment, prosecution, conviction, incarceration. You might say they are sticklers for tradition.'

    Coltrane stared at her for a moment. Jessica saw the man's will begin to fade. 'May I see that photograph again?'

    'Of course.' Jessica showed him. He studied it for a moment, rubbing his stubbled chin.

    'Now that I've had a moment to reflect, I believe I have made the acquaintance of this gentleman.'

    'Is this Tyvander Alice?'

    'Tyvander?' he asked. 'No. I knew him by another name. I know him as Hoochie.'


    'Yes. An unfortunate and undignified sobriquet based on his love of the lesser vintages, I believe.'

    Jessica handed Coltrane the five. The man touched it to his forehead, sniffed it, then spirited it away under his blanket.

    Before Jessica could ask another question she saw the blanket move. A few seconds later a Jack Russell terrier poked his snout out.

    His gray snout. The dog blinked a few times, adjusting its eyes to the light.

    'And who is this?' Jessica asked.

    'This is the irascible Biscuit. He is my oldest friend.' Coltrane patted the dog's head. Jessica saw the blanket bounce up and down with the movement of the pooch's tail. 'Is there anything in the world better than a warm biscuit?'

    Jessica tried to think of something. She could not. There was as good, but not better. She returned to the business at hand. 'Do you know where I might find Hoochie?'

    Coltrane shrugged. '"I wander'd lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills.'"

    Jessica raised an eyebrow, expecting more. There was no more. 'Bon Jovi?'

    Coltrane smiled. 'Wordsworth.'

    In other words, the answer was no. Homeless were just that. Jessica took out the photograph of Marcellus Palmer, the original victim found at Second and Poplar in 2004. 'Did you know this gentleman?'

    'Oh yes,' Coltrane said. 'Marcellus. We shared many a tankard of kill-devil. But that was a long time ago.'

    'Do you know what happened to him?'

    Coltrane nodded sadly. 'I heard he came to an unfortunate end. City buried him.'

    'Do you know where?'

    Coltrane looked up at the concrete embankment. For a moment there was only the sound of the cars passing overhead. 'Now, I did know at one time. The recollection seems to be pirouetting just at the edge of my memory.'

    Jessica produced another five, held it back. 'Think we could coax it back onto the dance floor?'

    'I believe we can.'

    The money was gone in an instant.

    'Up around Parkwood, I believe.'

    Jessica's phone rang. She looked at the screen. It was Byrne.

    'Thank you for your time, Mr. Coltrane.'

    'Always willing to do my part,' he said.

    Jessica took a few steps away, answered her phone.

    'Where are you?' she asked.

    'Still in West Philly.'

    Jessica told him what she had learned from Abraham Coltrane. Byrne filled her in on what she had missed. Two of the other homeless men who had been questioned in the murder of Marcellus Palmer were dead. The third man was long gone. Someone told someone that someone's friend had told someone that he was in Florida. Two someones was about the extent of any network worth exploring.

    When they met back at the Roundhouse, Jessica checked a roster of the city's graveyards.

    There was no cemetery in Parkwood.

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