Chapter 66


    The house was a large, aging Dutch Colonial on a hillside, not so much the archetypal farmhouse but rather a house built on a farm, remodeled many times over the years. It was surrounded on three sides by apple trees as far as the eye could see. In addition to a triple garage there were two outbuildings; one small, perhaps for lawn and maintenance equipment; one large, perhaps for mechanical harvesters, straddle trailers, and the storage of harvest totes.

    The air was heavy with the sugary-tart smell of the fruit.

    Jessica pulled over on the drive, stopping about fifty yards from the house. Nothing moved. There were no vehicles in sight.

    'Does it get quieter than this?' Jessica asked.

    Byrne just looked at the house, at the acres of trees. There was a porch light on, but no lights were visible through the windows.

    Jessica had a hard time reconciling the bucolic vision in front of her with what she had seen in the past four days, or with the story she had heard from Rogers Logan. Still, there could be no denying that the murder of Thomas Archer, who at one time had lived right here, was connected to the brutal homicides in Philadelphia.

    She looked at Byrne. 'Ready?'

    Byrne hesitated for a few moments, then nodded.

    Jessica crossed the gravel drive, looked in the grimy garage-door window. Inside she saw a pickup truck on the right-hand side. It looked to be a five-year-old F-150. The other two bays were empty. There was a thin layer of dust on the truck. There had been rain in this part of Pennsylvania in the past three days. Chances were good that the truck had not been out.

    She and Byrne then walked over to the porch. The place was eerily quiet. They were about three hundred yards from Route 68, and it seemed that even the sound of the occasional car passing by did not reach them.

    The right-hand side of the porch had a rick of well-seasoned firewood, stacked in a rusted wrought-iron rack. The door was ringed with a grapevine wreath, strung with autumn mums and small gourds.

    Jessica looked through the window in the door. She saw no activity. She knocked, listened. Byrne moved across the porch, next to the window that looked into the living room. There were sheer curtains over the opening.

    Jessica knocked again, put her ear near the door. Only silence.

    Walking around to the back of the house, they found a tilled vegetable garden, turned for the season. A small green-water pond sat at the bottom of a gentle hill. The back porch was smaller than the front, but boasted a pair of new Adirondack chairs. They climbed the steps, looked inside. Inside was a mud room of sorts, one that led to a large kitchen. There were no cups or plates on the table, none in the sink.

    Jessica knocked again, waited. The house appeared to be unoccupied.

    'Let's check the garage,' Byrne said.

    They walked over to the triple garage, around the side where there was a smaller door. It was unlocked.

    Byrne stayed outside while Jessica pushed open the door, stepped in. The garage was dark and dusty, smelling of axle grease and the ever-pervasive sweetness of apples. The cloying smell was even stronger in here. One wall was lined with garden and farm tools - rakes, half- round shovels, hoes, mattocks, pickaxes. The other wall boasted a collage of license plates and street signs.

    Jessica walked over to the truck. She placed her hand on the hood. The engine was cold. She then took a Kleenex out of her pocket, opened the driver's-side door. The rusty hinge moaned, and she stopped. It had been so quiet that the sound went through the garage like a scream. She eased the door all the way open. There were no keys in the ignition, and the cab was relatively clean. A pine-tree- shaped deodorizer dangled from the rearview mirror.

    On the seat was a small pile of papers. Jessica held the Kleenex tightly, sorted through them. There were a pair of flyers for a recent Oktoberfest in Kelton, a coupon for a free car wash. There was a brochure for tours of Philadelphia. At the bottom was a postcard depicting a beach in South Carolina. Greetings from Edisto Island. Jessica flipped the card over, angled her Maglite.


    Looking forward to seeing you and everyone at Société Poursuite!

    I'll be staying at the Hyatt Penn's Landing. Look me up and we'll have a drink.


    It was signed, simply, R.

    Jessica glanced at the date on the postmark. It was from the previous Friday.

    She slipped the postcard back where it had been, closed the truck door, and walked out of the garage. She told Byrne about the postcard.

    'It looks like he might be at the annual meeting of the Société Poursuite.'

    'That's the group that handles the cold cases, right?'

    'And these are all—'

    'Cold cases,' Byrne said. 'Melina Laskaris, Marcellus Palmer, Antoinette Chan, and Peggy van Tassel are all open investigations, just the kind of thing a group like Société Poursuite would look into.'

    Jessica nodded, thought for a moment. 'Logan said this guy used to be a state trooper. Maybe he's a member.'

    'That convention is this week.'

    It occurred to both of them at the same time.

    'He's in Philly,' Jessica said.

    'He's in Philly.'

The Echo Man
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