Jessica looked at her partner. She wasn't sure how long she had been staring at him without saying anything, her mouth open, eyebrows raised. Then all she could muster was one word. 'Wow.'
Byrne said nothing.
'I remember her,' Jessica said. 'I mean, I remember the story. I think my father talked about it. Plus, it was all over the news for a while.' Although she'd been in high school at the time she and her friends had discussed the case, mainly because it involved sex, violence and celebrity.
In November 1990 a woman named Christa-Marie Schönburg, a cellist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, was arrested and charged in the murder of a man named Gabriel Thorne. According to the news reports, Thorne was Christa-Marie's psychiatrist, but there was a great deal of speculation at the time as to whether or not they were romantically involved, even though Thorne had been Christa-Marie's caregiver since she was a child and was three decades her senior. If Jessica remembered correctly, Christa-Marie confessed to second-degree murder, diminished capacity, and was sentenced to twenty-to-life in the women's facility at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy.
'That was your first case?' Jessica asked.
Byrne nodded. 'My first as a lead detective, yeah. I was partnered with Jimmy.'
Jimmy Purify, his rabbi in the homicide unit, had been Byrne's partner before Jessica.
'I don't understand,' Jessica said. 'Is Christa-Marie still in Muncy?'
'No,' Byrne said. 'She was released a few years ago. The last I heard she's still living in the Chestnut Hill house.'
Jessica decided not to ask her partner why he knew all this. It was not all that uncommon for detectives to keep track of people they had arrested and convicted of crimes. What surprised Jessica was that she had known none of this.
'Have you spoken to her since her release?'
'Has she tried to contact you before this?'
'Not that I know of.'
Jessica took a few beats. She looked again at the handwriting on the note. It did not look like the penmanship of someone deranged. 'Is she, how do I put this ... better now?'
Byrne shrugged. 'I don't know. The murder was pretty brutal, and she went through a battery of psychological tests at the time of the hearings. I saw some of the reports. Chronic depression. Borderline bipolar. It never came to anything because she pled out. There never was a trial.'
'Were you called at the hearing?'
'Did you testify?'
Byrne hesitated before answering. Jessica sensed a feeling of regret. 'Yes.'
Jessica tried to arrange the timeline in her mind. 'When was that card postmarked?'
Byrne looked at the envelope. 'Last Thursday.'
Jessica did the math. 'So she sent it—'
'Before the murders.'
Jessica felt her breath catch. She tried to process all this. It wasn't often that she was thrown such a curve. 'Is she capable of something like this? I mean, physically capable?'
Jessica knew that at least part of her question was rhetorical. The woman was a convicted murderer, after all. Obviously she was capable of violence. But violence committed in the throes of rage or passion didn't necessarily lead to cold blooded, well-calculated murder. And then there were the physical elements.
'She's capable,' Byrne said. 'The logistics? She's not a big woman, Jess, and she's obviously a lot older now. I don't think she could have done all this without some help.'
Jessica was silent for a moment. 'Okay. Maybe it's just a coincidence. The lion and the rooster and the swan.'
Byrne just glared.
'Okay, it was worth a shot.' Jessica glanced at her watch. 'Do you want to go now or in the morning?'
'Kevin. We need to talk to her.'
Byrne took the note card from her, slipped it back into the envelope. 'I should probably talk to her alone.'
Byrne was probably right, but that didn't make Jessica want to go along any less. 'You have to tell the boss, Kevin. You have to share it with the team.'
Byrne glanced around the small, cramped room. There wasn't really anything to look at besides a beaten-up coffee maker and the two-way mirror looking into one of the interview rooms. He looked back at his partner.
'Tomorrow,' he said.
Jessica started to object, but Byrne continued.
'Look, this is connected with the Kenneth Beckman case, and I'm working that case. How it's connected, I have no idea. But if it turns out to be something, I'll post it. If it doesn't, then there's no need to drag all this into the mix.'
'How could it not be connected, Kevin? It's not as if Christa-Marie could have just now learned any of this from anyone here. She wrote the note before the murders happened.'
'If I tell Dana right now, what is she going to do? Send a couple of detectives to interrogate Christa-Marie? I know Christa-Marie. I'm the one Dana would send, anyway. There's no reason to turn this woman's life upside down until we know what this is all about.'
'So you're going to talk to her off the record?'
Byrne said nothing.
Jessica wanted to remind her partner that Christa-Marie Schönburg was a confessed murderer, a woman who had spent more than fifteen years in prison. If he didn't have some sort of as-yet-unidentified emotional attachment to the woman and her case, and he'd heard that a confessed murderer had information on fresh homicides, he'd be charging that way with the cavalry and more.
'Besides,' Byrne began, moving on to his closing argument, 'who's to say I didn't read this note tomorrow? Everyone knows I never open my mail.'
Kevin Byrne's secrets were safe with Jessica, as were hers with him. She trusted his judgment more than anyone else she knew.
'Okay,' Jessica said. 'Where do you want me on this?'
'I'll drive up to Chestnut Hill first thing in the morning. I'll call you after.'
Jessica nodded. They both went silent for a long time.
Finally Jessica asked, 'Are you okay, Kevin?'
Byrne opened the door of the coffee room, glanced out. The duty room was a ghost town. He turned back to his partner and said softly: 'I really don't know.'
Twenty minutes later Jessica watched Byrne gather his things, close his briefcase, retrieve his weapon from the file cabinet, grab his coat and keys. He stopped at the door, turned, gave her a sad smile and a wave. As he disappeared around the corner Jessica knew there was something else going on with him, something other than the job, something other than the horror of the four bodies dumped ceremoniously around their city.
Something he wasn't telling her.