Chapter 78


    Jessica and Bontrager stood in the gift shop off the lobby. Jessica had briefed Dana Westbrook on their findings and Dana in turn briefed the rest of the team.

    Jessica thought about the people milling around the lobby and the lounge, drinks in their hands. Something nagged at her. She couldn't put her finger on it.

    'I want to see that guest list again,' Jessica said.

    'Hang on. I'll get it.'

    A minute later Bontrager returned, handed her the small stack of papers. She put it down on the gift-shop counter.

    Her stare moved down each of the pages. She didn't know what she was looking for. She scanned the list of cities. Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Montreal, Sao Paulo, Zurich, Cincinnati.

    She leaned against the desk, took out her iPhone.

    She remembered the crime-scene photos. There was something about one of the photographs. She scrolled through the photos she had taken. Nothing jumped out. There were photos of the Federal Street scene, shots taken at the Mount Olive Cemetery. There were also photos taken of the alley where Eduardo Robles was found, as well as the paupers' graveyard in the Northeast. The last roll was pictures taken in and around Garrett Corner, Archer Farms, as well as pictures she had taken of the state police file on the murder of Peggy van Tassel.

    She had three pictures of the crime-scene photos. The scene was bloody and stomach-churning. One photo was a close-up of the girl's stomach.

    Jessica zoomed in on the picture, on an area where the girl's killer had bitten her. As she got closer she saw that it was not one of the bite marks, it was a bruise instead. She increased the size one more time. The image was beginning to blur, but it was still clear enough. The bruise looked to be in the shape of a snake.

    A ring?

    Had she seen someone tonight wearing a ring in the shape of a snake?

    Yes. A man wearing a ring of that description was one of the three men who had come up to the table, one of the Three Stooges. It was not the inebriated one, Barry Swanson. Nor was it the tall Finn.

    What was the other one's name?

    She remembered. She saw the name tag in her mind's eye. It was Jay Bowman.



    Jessica walked the perimeter of the Crystal Room, her heart racing. Table after table. She didn't see him. She walked to the other side, her eyes scanning, searching. No. He was not here. She hurried out to the lobby. The man calling himself Jay Bowman was not to be found. She got on her comm. In seconds she had John Shepherd.

    'There's a guest here. He's registered under the name Jay Bowman.'

    'Hang on,' Shepherd said. Twenty long seconds later: 'We've got him. Room 1208.'


    The service elevator was agonizingly slow. For a moment Jessica considered getting off and taking the stairs, but that would probably delay her. Josh Bontrager and John Shepherd were taking the passenger elevator, which was on the other side of the hotel. On the twelfth floor they would be able to form a loose perimeter. There were now uniformed officers stationed at every exit on all the floors.

    When she got out on the twelfth floor she passed a handful of guests. Two women about her age, dressed provocatively as French housemaids. A shorter man dressed as a wizard. A pair of boys about ten. None of them were George Archer.

    She met up with Bontrager and Shepherd at the end of the hallway leading to the east wing. They moved down the hall, ears attuned to the sounds coming from the rooms. They reached Room 1208. Silence from within. Jessica made eye contact with the two men.

    Bontrager knocked. No response. He knocked again.

    Shepherd stepped forward, touched the electronic card to the top of the lock. Jessica and Bontrager drew their weapons. Jessica nodded. Shepherd swiped the card, turned the handle, and pushed open the door.

    Jessica rolled into the room first, her weapon high. There were no lights on. She reached out, felt along the wall, found the switch. It turned on a single light overhead, along with an under-cabinet light on the minibar across the room.

    'Police,' she said. No response. She stopped just short of the bathroom door. She nudged it open with her foot. Bontrager flanked her on the right. He reached around the corner, turned on the light.

    The bathroom was empty.

    They edged forward, deeper into the hotel room. Jessica saw it first. There was a small pool of blood drying on the carpet in front of the desk. Next to it was the unmistakable stain of vomit. She touched Bontrager's arm, nodded at the stain. Bontrager saw it too.

    They counted a silent three. Jessica rolled into the main part of the room first, her weapon raised.

    It was a slaughterhouse. Blood slathered the walls, the floor. A spray of crimson dotted the window overlooking Seventeenth Street.

    Josh Bontrager stepped forward, opened the closet. It was empty. He looked under the bed. 'We're clear,' he said.

    Jessica holstered her weapon.

    The body on the bed was covered with a single sheet. There was a full body print on the sheet, painted in blood. Josh Bontrager got on the far side, Jessica the near. They each grabbed a corner of the sheet, pulled it back.

    George Archer had been savaged. His throat was cut from ear to ear. His chest was crushed. There were bite marks across his stomach.

    There were also bruises across his thighs, bruises in the shape of a snake ring.

    The ring sat on the pillow next to his head. It was caked with skin and hair, bits of drying flesh.

    Jessica stepped forward, checked the dead man's fingers. No tattoos.

    John Shepherd got on his two-way, raising the head of the hotel's security detail. 'Lock the building down,' he said. 'No one goes in or out.'


    The lobby was in chaos when Jessica entered. There were a dozen uniformed officers deployed at exits, elevators, and service hallways. The restaurant's doors were closed. Inside Jessica saw patrons at candlelit tables, elegantly dressed, sipping their wines, perhaps figuring that, if you had to be locked down, being locked down inside a Michelin-starred restaurant with one of the most extensive and lauded wine cellars in the state was not such a bad thing.

    Inside the Crystal Room, in an attempt to keep the crowd at ease, a member of the protection detail made his way over to the attorney general's table, tapped his watch. The AG got up calmly, shook a few hands, but quickly walked out a door at the back of the ballroom.

    Jessica had changed into her jeans and hoodie. On her way out of the ladies' room she heard from Shepherd in her earpiece.

    'Jess. One of the wait staff saw something near the rear service entrance. Just east of the kitchen.'

    'What did she see?'



    Jessica and Bontrager met John Shepherd in the kitchen. Shepherd pointed out the handful of red dots leading to the rear entrance.

    Shepherd stepped forward, swiped a card. They entered the area near the loading dock. A PPD officer was deployed behind the building. When he heard noise he spun around, his hand on his weapon. He was young, in his mid-twenties, a little spooked. Jessica showed her badge, and the kid looked quite relieved to have a detective on scene.

    'How long have you been here?' Jessica asked

    'A minute or so,' the officer said. 'I just got the call.'

    The blood spots trailed over to a parking space, then disappeared.

    'Did you see anyone leave?'

    'No, ma'am.'

    Jessica stepped back into the service area, looked at the door to her left.

    'Where does this lead?' Jessica asked.

    'Women's locker room.'

    Jessica pushed through the door, her weapon low. The locker room had three benches, a row of sinks, a single shower, a pair of toilet stalls. Jessica checked them all. The room was empty. She looked at the inside of one of the toilet-stall doors. There was a smear of blood there.

    Whoever they were looking for was gone.

The Echo Man
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