Chapter 69


    The row house on 19th Street, near Callowhill, was immaculate. Beneath the front window was a pine flower-box. In the window was a candle.

    Byrne rang the bell. A few seconds later the door opened. Anna Laskaris stood there, apron on, spoon in hand, a look of confusion and expectation on her face.

    'Mrs. Laskaris, I don't know if you remember me. I'm—'

    'God may have taken my looks and my ability to walk more than three blocks. He didn't take away my brain. Not yet, anyway. I remember you.'

    Byrne nodded.

    'Come, come.'

    She held the door open for him. Byrne stepped inside. If the outside of the row house was immaculate, the inside was surgically precise. On every surface was some sort of knitted item: afghans, doilies, throws. The air was suffused with three different aromas, all of them tantalizing.

    She sat him at a small table in the kitchen. In seconds there was a cup of strong coffee in front of him.

    Byrne took a minute or so, adding sugar, stirring, stalling. He finally got to the point. 'There's no easy way to say this, ma'am. Eduardo Robles is dead.'

    Anna Laskaris looked at him, unblinking. Then she made the sign of the cross. A few seconds later she got up and walked to the stove. 'We'll eat.'

    Byrne wasn't all that hungry, but it wasn't a question. In an instant he had a bowl of lamb stew in front of him. A basket of fresh bread seemed to appear out of nowhere. He ate.

    'This is fantastic.'

    Anna Laskaris mugged, as if this was in any doubt. She sat across from him, watched him eat.

    'You married?' she asked. 'You wear no ring, but these days . . .'

    'No,' Byrne said. 'I'm divorced.'


    'Not right now.'

    'What size sweater you wear?'


    'Sweater. Like a cardigan, a pullover, a V-neck. Sweater.'

    Byrne had to think about it. 'I don't really buy a lot of sweaters, to be honest with you.'

    'Okay. I try another door. When you buy a suit, like this beautiful suit you wear today, what size?'

    'A 46, usually,' Byrne said. 'A 46 long.'

    Anna Laskaris nodded. 'So then, an extra large. Maybe extra-extra.'


    'What's your favorite color?'

    Byrne didn't really have a favorite color. It wasn't something that crossed his mind that much. He did, however, have least favorites. 'Well, anything but pink, I guess. Or yellow.'


    'Or purple.'

    Anna Laskaris glanced at her huge knitting basket, back at Byrne. 'Green, I think. You're Irish, right?'

    Byrne nodded.

    'A nice green.'

    Byrne ate his stew. It occurred to him that this was the first time in a long while he was not eating in a restaurant or out of a Styrofoam container. While he ate, Anna stared off in the distance, her mind perhaps returning to other times in this house, other times at this table, times before people like Byrne brought heartache to the door like UPS. After a while, she stood slowly. She nodded at Byrne's empty bowl. 'You have some more, yes?'

    'Oh God, no. I'm stuffed. It was wonderful.'

    She rounded the table, picked up his bowl, brought it to the sink. Byrne could see the pain in her eyes.

    'The recipe was my grandmother's. Then her grandmother's. Of the many things I miss, it's teaching Lina these things.'

    She sat back down.

    'My Melina was beautiful, but not so smart always. Especially about the men. Like me. I never did too well in this area. Three husbands, all bums.'

    She looked out the window, then back at Byrne.

    'It's a sad job what you do?'

    'Sometimes,' Byrne said.

    'A lot of times you come to people like me, give us bad news?'

    Byrne nodded.

    'Sometimes good news?'


    Anna looked at the wall next to the stove. There were three pictures of Lina - at three, ten, and sixteen.

    'Sometimes I am at the market, I think I see her. But not like a grown-up girl, not like a young woman. A little girl. You know how little girls sometimes go off on their own, in their minds? Like maybe when they play with their dolls? The dolls to them are like real people?'

    Byrne knew this well.

    'My Lina was like this. She had a friend who was not there.'

    Anna drifted away for a moment, then threw her hands up. 'We have a saying in Greece. The heart that loves is always young. She was my only grandchild. I will never have another. I have no one left to love.'

    At the door Anna Laskaris held Byrne for a moment. Today she smelled of lemons and honey. It seemed to Byrne that she was getting smaller. Grief will do that, he thought. Grief needs room.

    'It does not make me happy this man is dead,' Anna Laskaris said.

    'God will find a place for him, a place he deserves. This is not up to you or me.'

    Byrne walked to the van, slipped inside. He looked back at the house. There was already a fresh candle in the window.


    He had grown up in the mist of the Delaware, and always did his best thinking there. As he drove to the river Kevin Francis Byrne considered the things he had done, the good and the bad.

    You know.

    He thought about Christa-Marie, about the night he met her. He thought about what she had said to him. He thought about his dreams, about waking in the night at 2:52, the moment he placed Christa- Marie under arrest, the moment everything changed forever.

    You know.

    But it wasn't you know. He had played back the recording he'd made of himself sleeping, listened carefully, and it suddenly became obvious.

    He was saying blue notes.

    It was about the silences between the notes, the time it takes for the music to echo. It was Christa-Marie telling him something for the past twenty years. Byrne knew in his heart that it all began with her. It would all end with her.

    He looked at his watch. It was just after midnight.

    It was Halloween.

The Echo Man
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