The Audio-Visual Unit of the PPD was located in the Roundhouse basement. The purview of the unit was to provide A/V support to all of the city's agencies - cameras, TVs, recording devices, audio and video equipment. The unit was also responsible for recording every public event in which the mayor or police department was involved, providing an official record. The detective divisions relied upon the unit to analyze surveillance footage as it related to their cases.
In this regard there was no one better than Mateo Fuentes. In his mid-thirties, Fuentes was a denizen of the gloomy confines of the basement studios and editing bays, a fussy and geometrically precise investigator who seemed to take every foray by detectives into his world as an unwelcome invasion.
Recently promoted to sergeant, Mateo was now commander of the unit. What had passed for punctiliousness when he was Officer Fuentes now bordered on the obsessive.
When Jessica and Byrne arrived in the basement, Mateo Fuentes was holding court in one of the bays off the main studio, chatting with David Albrecht.
'So, you prefer the L-series lens, then?' Mateo asked.
'Oh yeah,' Albrecht said. 'No comparison.'
Mateo smirked. 'So, if I mortgage my house and sell all my possessions, I might be able to buy a rig like this?'
'You might be able to rent one.'
Both men looked over at Jessica and Byrne. Albrecht smiled. Mateo frowned. It appeared that the two detectives were harshing his vibe. A few minutes later the rest of the team arrived - six detectives in all, plus Sergeant Dana Westbrook.
Mateo was outnumbered.
'And so to business,' Fuentes said. 'Ready?'
The detectives gathered around David Albrecht's camera. The LCD screen was about four inches diagonally, but Mateo had hooked it up to one of the fifteen-inch monitors from the Comm Unit.
Mateo fast-forwarded through footage of the West Philly location until he came to the sequence showing the parking lot where Jessica had been assaulted.
The video showed Jessica walking out of the diner and into the parking lot. Ordinarily this would have been a moment for hoots and hollers, for a bout of good-natured ribbing. Everyone was silent. They knew what was coming.
On the screen Jessica made a call on her cellphone, then pocketed the phone. She leaned against the wall of the building, and opened the diary. She pulled something out of the back. This went on for a full minute. Cars passed in the foreground. A mother walking with her three small children stopped in front of the lot. The woman adjusted the jacket on a two-year-old girl, who wanted nothing to do with it. They soon moved on. Jessica continued to read.
A few moments later Thompson emerged from behind the building. It showed him sucker-punching Jessica, the diary flying from her hand. Two loose pieces of paper lofted on the wind. Everyone watching winced. The second blow took Jessica down. Thompson paced for a few moments, strutting. The audio was from across the street, just the sound of traffic. His words were unintelligible, but his gestures were not.
'There,' Albrecht said. He hit a button on the small remote in his hand. The video froze. Albrecht pointed to the right side of the screen. There, just beyond the corner of the building, was a shadow on the ground, the unmistakable shadow of a person. Albrecht restarted the video. Thompson stood over Jessica's body, but all eyes were on the shadow. The shadow didn't move.
He's watching, Jessica thought. He's just standing there watching what's happening. He's not helping me. He's part of this.
When Thompson got close to the corner of the building a pair of arms reached out, over his head. A second later the arms descended and Thompson all but disappeared, dragged off his feet with enormous force.
Albrecht rewound the video, played it again, this time frame by frame. The arms were dark-clad. The subject wore dark gloves. When the hands were over Thompson's head Albrecht froze the video. Silhouetted against the white of the garage behind the building, it was possible to see what the man in shadows had in his hands. It was a wire. A long loop of thin wire. He slipped the wire over Thompson's head and around his neck, yanking back and pulling Thompson from the frame.
The screen went black.
'I want a copy of this sent to Technical Services,' Dana Westbrook said. 'I want this broken down frame by frame.'
'I want tire impressions from that lot and the area behind the building,' Westbrook said. 'See if we have any police cameras on that street.'
Before Westbrook could say anything else, Dennis Stansfield came down the stairs in a hurry. He bulled into the center of the room.
'Detective?' Westbrook asked. 'You're late.'
Stansfield looked at the floor, the ceiling, the walls. He opened his mouth, but nothing emerged. He seemed stuck.
Stansfield snapped out of it. 'There's another one.'
The scene was a Chinese takeout on York Street, in a section of Philadelphia known as Fishtown. A longtime working-class neighborhood in the northeast section of Center City, running roughly from the Delaware River to Frankford Avenue to York Street, Fishtown now boasted a number of arts and entertainment venues, mixing arty types with the cops, firefighters, and blue-collar workers.
As Byrne and Jessica threaded through the cordon to the area behind the restaurant, Jessica dreaded what she was about to see.
A pair of uniformed officers stood at the mouth of the alley. Jessica and Byrne signed onto the crime scene, gloved up, and walked down the narrow passageway. No one was in a hurry.
The call had come in to 911 at just after nine p.m. The victim, it appeared, had been dead for days.
Garbage bags had been piling up behind the restaurant for weeks. Apparently the restaurant owner had an ongoing feud with the private hauling company, and it had become a matter of principle. Pushed against one wall were more than a hundred bulging plastic bags, ripped and torn by all manner of vermin, their rotting contents spilling out. The foul smell of the decomposing body was masked by a dozen other acrid odors of decaying meats and produce. A trio of brave rats milled at the far end of the alley, waiting their turn.
At first, Jessica didn't see the victim. CSU had not yet set up their field lighting, and in the dim light of the sodium street lamps, combined with the meager yellow light thrown by the security light over the back door to the restaurant, the flesh of the corpse blended in with the trash and pitted asphalt. It was as if he had become part of the city itself. Stepping closer, she saw the body.
Light brown skin. Nude and hairless. Head shaved bald. The body was bloated with gases.
The entire team was present, along with Russell Diaz, Mike Drummond, and now a representative of the mayor's office.
They all waited for the ME's investigator to clear the body for investigators. Tom Weyrich was taking a day off. The new investigator was a black woman in her forties whom Jessica had never met. She examined the body for wounds, made her notes. She opened the victim's hand, shone her Maglite, and everyone saw the small tattoo on the middle finger of the left hand. It appeared to be a kangaroo. Photos were taken from every angle.
The ME's investigator rose and stepped back. Stansfield walked forward and gently removed the white paper band that was wrapped around the victim's head.
The dead man was Latino, in his late thirties. Like the other victims he had a slash across his forehead, but this time the puncture wound was over his left eye. His right ear was shredded into a scabrous tangle of blood and ruined cartilage.
Byrne saw the victim's face, turned, and took a few steps away, his hands in his pockets.
What was this about? Jessica wondered. Why was he stepping away?
'I know him,' Drummond said. 'That's Eduardo Robles.'
All eyes turned to Kevin Byrne. Everyone knew that Byrne had been trying to get the grand jury to indict Robles in the death of Lina Laskaris. And now Robles was a victim of their serial murderer.
'This is where she died,' Byrne said. 'She was shot on the street and she crawled back here to die. This is the Lina Laskaris crime scene.'
On York Street, the media crews swarmed. In the mix Jessica noted CNN, Fox and other national news outlets. Among them David Albrecht jockeyed for position.