Chapter 48


    The amount of blood was staggering.

    Jessica stood next to the stacks of crystal CD cases. The clear boxes were sprayed with blood and brain matter. Bits of shattered skull stuck to the valance over the curtains.

    Joseph Novak's body was in the desk chair at an unnatural angle - the force of the blast had twisted his body in two directions. The upper third of his head was missing. Not missing, exactly, Jessica thought. It was dispersed around the wall and drapes behind him. The bullet had blasted out the window. There were two CSU officers across the street at that moment searching for the slug.

    Was Joseph Novak their killer? He'd seemed unshakeable when he had been in for questioning, but why had he run the previous day? What did he have to hide?

    The body was removed at ten a.m.


    Jessica watched the CSU officers go through the motions. Now that the body was gone, the apartment-management company would soon contact one of the cleaning crews that specialized in crime-scene cleanup, a mini-growth industry during the past ten years. The world would move on.

    The death had all the earmarks of a suicide, so there was probably not going to be a full-blown investigation. The weapon, a Colt Commander, had still been in Joseph Novak's hand when he was found, his finger curled inside the trigger guard.

    Jessica would present her report to her boss, who would pass it along to the DA's office, who would then make a ruling. Unless there was any compelling evidence of foul play, this would be ruled a suicide and the homicide division of the PPD would not be involved any further.

    But that didn't mean there was not a connection to the serial murders going on in the city.

    Jessica got the attention of the two CSU officers who were dusting the doors and table for fingerprints.

    'Can you guys give me a few minutes?'

    The officers, always ready for a break, set aside what they were doing, walked through the door into the hallway, closed it.

    Jessica slipped on gloves, turned the laptop to face the other side of the desk. The screen displayed a default screen saver. She touched the space bar, and in a second the screen came back to life. It was a Word document, with three short sentences.


Zig, zig, zig.


What a saraband!


They all hold hands and dance in circles . . .


    Jessica was not familiar with the passage. Was this a suicide note? she wondered. She scrolled down on the trackpad but there was nothing else. The document was just the three lines. She glanced at the corner of the window. It had not been saved.

    Was this a work in progress? Was this some sort of message from Joseph Novak, some riddle left behind for friends and family by which they might make some sense of his final, violent act?

    Jessica had no idea. As much as she would have liked to take the laptop with her, she had no jurisdiction over it. Not yet, anyway. She would lobby the DAs office to establish a material-witness status for the late Joseph Novak, and perhaps she would get a chance to go through it.

    She looked around the place. The silence was thick and oppressive.

    Jessica had to be careful about looking through the contents of the computer. The homicide unit had recently received directives from the DA's office about needing court approval for doing anything with a computer that involved clicking a mouse or touching a keyboard. If there was something on the screen to be seen, in plain view, that was one thing. If it involved maximizing a minimized window, launching a program, or visiting a web page located in a history on a browser, that was something else.

    A case against a man trafficking in child pornography had recently been tossed because the detective, knowing there were thousands of images on the man's hard drive, had opened a graphics program. It turned out that every time a program was launched, there was a log of the event and a record of the precise time it happened. If the suspect was in custody at that moment, the detective could not claim that the program was already open.

    Jessica clicked over to the side bar. There was no harm in looking, as long as she didn't open any files or programs. She glanced at the contents of the drive. There was one file, saraband.doc. That was it. Other than that, there was nothing on the drive. No documents, no spreadsheets, no databases, no photos, music or audio files. It had all the earmarks of a drive that had been recently erased.

    Any good computer-forensic lab would be able to tell when a drive had been formatted, and could usually find evidence of the files that were originally on the drive. Jessica was already formulating the case she would make to the DA's office to allow them to do just that.

    In the meantime she would get a couple of warm bodies down here to canvass the building, just to see if Joseph Novak had had any visitors earlier in the day. If he had, maybe it could lead to a full-scale investigation of his death as something other than a suicide.

    She took out her phone, checked her voicemail. Two messages.

    When did she get two messages? Why hadn't it rung? She checked the side of the phone. With an iPhone, the switch to toggle from silent to ring tone was on the upper left, and was easily activated when you put the phone in your pocket. Too easily. The ringer had been off.

    Jessica switched it back on, tapped the first voicemail message. It was from the man who was hoping to install the awnings on the new house. He wanted two grand. Dream on.

    The second call was from an unknown caller. She played it.

    'Detective Balzano, this is Joseph Novak.'

    Jessica jumped to her feet. Her skin broke out in gooseflesh. She glanced behind her, at the dark sienna stains on the carpet and walls. She could still smell the cordite in the air, could taste the coppery airborne blood at the back of her throat. Joseph Novak's blood. She was listening to a message from the grave.

    'I want to apologize for my behavior. I can't go on like this. There is more to this than you know. Much more. You don't know him. I cannot live with myself anymore.'

    Jessica paused the message for a moment, paced the living room. Everything she looked at - the books, the CDs, the furniture itself - took on a new meaning.

    She stopped pacing, tapped the button, continued the message.

    'I hear him coming down the hall. Look in the cabinet above the range in the kitchen.'

    The message ended.

    Jessica put her phone in her pocket, crossed the living room into the compact Pullman kitchen. She opened the cabinets above the range hood. There she found a dozen or so cookbooks - Mexican, Italian, Cajun. She pulled a few of them out, riffled the pages. Nothing. The second-to-last cookbook was labeled Home Recipes. She pulled it out. When she did, something fell on the floor. It was a slim leather-bound journal. The cover was worn and creased. She picked it up. Stuck in the front was an old photograph. It was Joseph Novak at fifteen or so, standing next to a beautiful cello. Jessica slipped the picture back in the book, opened it.

    It was a diary.


    June 22. The competition is this Saturday. But it is more than just a competition for first chair. We both know that. It is a competition for her. It will always be thus.

    Jessica flipped ahead to the back of the journal. She read the final entry.


    November 1. All Saints Day. It is done. I know now that I will be forever beholden to him. I will never be out of his shadow. For the rest of my life I will do his bidding. My heart is forever broken, forever in his hands.

    Zig, zig, zig.

    He is death in cadence.


    Jessica closed the journal. She needed a warrant to search every square inch of this apartment, and she needed one fast. She put in a call to the DA's office, told them what she had, what she needed. She took the journal, intending to say it had been in plain sight, therefore not covered by the warrant. She stepped outside, locked the door. She told the two CSU officers they could return to the lab. She would call them when and if she needed them.

    She walked across the street, grabbed a coffee-to-go at the diner, stepped into the parking lot behind. She called Byrne, got his voice- mail. She called Dana Westbrook, gave her a status report. Westbrook said she would send two other detectives from the Special Investigations Unit to aid in the search.

    Jessica opened the journal. There was something under the back cover. She peeled it back gently. There was a second photograph there, an old Polaroid, a long shot of a window in a huge stone building. In the window was a figure. It was impossible to see who it was, but it looked like a slender woman. On the back of the photograph was one word scrawled in red pencil.


    Before Jessica could get the photograph back into the journal she heard someone approaching, footfalls on hard gravel. She turned.

    The fist came from nowhere, connecting with the right side of her face in a dull thud. She staggered back, saw stars. The journal flew out of her hands. The second blow was more glancing, but it carried enough force to knock her to the ground. She had enough presence to roll onto the side where she had her weapon holstered.

    Through the haze she saw her assailant. White-blond hair, filthy jeans, laceless sneakers. She didn't recognize him. Not by sight, not at first. When he spoke again, she knew. And there was no mistaking those eyes.

    'I think we have some unfinished business, Detective Balzano,' Lucas Anthony Thompson said. 'Or should I say Detective Cunt Balzano.'

    Jessica rolled to her right, worked the Glock from her holster, but she was too slow. Thompson stepped forward, kicked the weapon from her hand.

    'You shoulda shot me when you had the fucking chance, bitch. Ain't gonna happen today.'

    When Thompson took another step toward her, Jessica saw movement at the back of the parking lot. A shadow slithered along the pavement.

    Someone was standing behind Thompson.

    And then everything went gray.

The Echo Man
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