Chapter 83



    It was Russell Diaz. The city block had been taken over by law enforcement. Residents had begun to drift out of their houses. Endlessly, the helicopter flew back and forth, hovering overhead. Jessica looked around. David Albrecht was not to be found.

    'You have a minute?' Diaz asked.

    She did not. But she knew that this was coming, just as she knew what it was about. 'Sure.'

    Diaz looked at his two men. 'Give us a second.'

    The two officers walked a few feet away, leaned against Jessica's car. When Diaz felt they were out of earshot, he spoke.

    'You know what I have to ask, don't you?' he said, lowering his voice.

    Jessica remained silent. It was a rhetorical question. Diaz plowed ahead. Niceties were over.

    'I need to talk to Kevin,' Diaz said. 'Have you heard from him?'

    'Not since earlier this evening.'

    'About what time was that?'

    Jessica had to think about this. She had to be accurate. This was all going on the record. 'Maybe an hour ago.'

    'He called you?'


    'Did he mention where he was going?'

    Now she had to be careful. Byrne had not said anything specific. 'No.'

    'Is he still driving that van?'

    'I don't know.'

    Diaz looked out over the gathering crowd, back.

    'I want to show you something.'

    They walked over to the unmarked police van. Diaz opened the sliding side door. Inside was a rack of electronic equipment, surveillance monitors, three locked gun racks. Diaz grabbed a laptop off the front seat, opened it, put it on the floor of the van. The screen instantly displayed a flow chart. On it were six different squares. Diaz clicked the first one.

    Seconds later three separate documents cascaded across the screen. Jessica recognized them as PPD witness statements, presented in .pdf format.

    'We have statements from three people who live on West Tioga Street,' Diaz said. 'Neighbors of Sharon and Kenneth Beckman. They all stated that they saw Detective Byrne at the Beckman house an hour before her son reported her missing.'

    'She was next of kin, Russell. Both Kevin and I were there that morning. We made notification.'

    'As you know, he returned a short time later. Did you accompany Detective Byrne back to the premises?'

    'No,' Jessica said. 'He returned to follow up. We had received additional information.'

    'What was the information?'

    Diaz knew the answer to his question. He was testing her. 'That Kenneth Beckman was questioned in the murder of Antoinette Chan.'

    'When did Detective Byrne return to the Roundhouse?'

    'It had to be around three.'

    'What did he say about the interview?'

    'He said that Sharon Beckman didn't answer the door.'

    Diaz took a moment, then tapped another square on the chart. This was the ME's preliminary report on Joseph Novak. 'The coroner puts the time of death for Joseph Novak at between eight p.m. and six a.m. Do you know where Detective Byrne was during those hours?'

    This was getting so bad, so fast. Was Diaz making an attempt to establish some sort of conspiracy here?

    'I do not.'

    'Did Detective Byrne mention anything about seeing Mr. Novak again that day?'


    Diaz hit yet another button on the laptop. A grainy video began to play. It was the stationary image of a city street at night.

    'This is PPD surveillance footage near the corner of Frankford and York.'

    At the thirty-four-second mark on the video a man crosses the top of the frame, hesitates for a moment, walks off frame. A few seconds later, a second man walks across the frame, right to left. He continues off. Diaz rewound the recording. He pointed to the lower right of the image, at a van parked on the street. 'This tag is registered to a man named Patrick Connolly. He is Detective Byrne's cousin. Connolly stated that he lent this vehicle to Detective Byrne last week.'

    Jessica looked closely. It was clearly the Sedona minivan. She looked closely at the whole image. 'I believe Kevin already acknowledged that he was there that night. This is not new information.'

    Diaz hit play. The image scrolled by in slow motion this time. He freeze-framed it as the first man walked into the frame. 'This is Eduardo Robles.' He hit play again. Robles disappears off frame, walking down the alley, the alley in which his body was found. The second man enters the frame. Diaz froze the image again.

    'Do you recognize this person, detective?' he asked.

    Jessica noted that she had gone from Jess to detective. To another person it might have gone unnoticed. Not to anyone in law enforcement. 'No. Sorry. It could be anyone.'

    'Not exactly.' Diaz hit a few keys, zoomed in. It increased the size of the pixels, but some things were obvious. Like the man's left hand. 'It can only be a white male, so it can't be "just anyone".' He pointed to something next to the figure. 'We took measurements on this stand- pipe. This person is over six feet tall. He is wearing a dark overcoat and a dark watch cap.' Diaz reached onto a shelf. He produced a photograph of Kevin Byrne, a picture that Jessica recognized instantly.

    It had been taken a year ago at a benefit in the Poconos. It was of Kevin and her standing with a bunch of kids. Kevin wore a dark overcoat and navy blue watch cap.

    Jessica said nothing.

    Diaz directed her gaze to the body on the ground across the cemetery from where they stood. 'Everyone was well aware of the friction between Detective Byrne and Detective Stansfield. Add to that the incident between them at the Roundhouse and you can see what I'm faced with, right?' Diaz closed the laptop, squared himself in front of her. 'I now have a dead cop, and Kevin Byrne is missing again.'

    Diaz opened a second laptop. There on the screen were two microscope photographs of hair shafts. Diaz pointed to the one on the left. 'This is a sample taken from a brush belonging to Sharon Beckman.' He pointed to the example on the right. Jessica was far from an expert, but to her eye the samples were identical. 'This was found on the driver's seat of Kevin Byrne's van. They match.'

    Jessica recalled the hair on Byrne's shoulder.

    'Did you get a haircut?'

    'Yeah. I popped in and got a trim.'

    Jessica began to feel nauseated. She remained silent, which was just as well because she had no idea what to say. Diaz closed the side door of the van, signaled to his two men. They approached, stopped a few feet away.

    'Look, Jess. If you were looking at this from the outside, you would see why we need to talk to Detective Byrne.'

    Jessica knew that Diaz was right. In her career she had brought people in for questioning based on far less.

    'I don't know where he is, Russ. I've left five voicemails for him in the past half-hour.'

    'When was the last time you called?'

    'Five minutes ago.'

    'Want to try again?'

    Jessica took out her phone. She put it on speaker, hit Byrne's speed- dial number. It rang twice, and his voicemail greeting came on. There was no point leaving a sixth message. Jessica closed her phone.

    Diaz nodded. 'Detective Byrne carries a 17?'

    He was referring to a Glock 17, the standard-issue service weapon for PPD detectives. 'Yeah.'

    'Does he carry a second piece?'

    My God, Jessica thought, her heart in free fall. She was betraying one of the most important people in her life. She wondered how Kevin would handle the same situation if someone was asking these questions about her. 'Sometimes.'


    Jessica told the truth. 'I don't know.'

    'Does he pack anything else?'

    Diaz meant knives, spray, knuckles, batons. 'No.'

    Diaz processed it all. He looked out over the burgeoning mass of people, then back at Jessica. 'You know him better than anyone. I know you are close. I know this has to be hard for you.'

    Jessica said nothing.

    Diaz handed her a card. 'That's my cell on the back. If you talk to Kevin, have him call me.'

    Jessica took the card, said nothing.

    'You know this is going to move forward, right?'

    'I know.'

    'It's better for everyone if he walks in the front door.'

    Diaz hesitated a few moments, then turned and walked away.


    Jessica looked out over the cemetery. In all, there were probably thirty or forty people on scene. Jessica knew most of them by name, yet she had never felt so completely alone in her life.

    A few minutes later Josh Bontrager emerged from the crowd.

    'You okay, Josh?'

    'No,' he said. 'I am not.'

    'What's wrong?'

    Bontrager bowed his head for moment. 'He was my partner, and now he's dead.'

    'Josh, he wasn't really your partner. You were paired with him for one case.'

    'Doesn't matter. Today he was my partner. Today I let him down.'

    Jessica knew what he meant. She had certainly let Kevin Byrne down today.

    'And I didn't even like the guy.'

    Jessica left Josh to his thoughts for a few moments. She then filled him in on everything that Diaz had said.

    'That's ridiculous,' Bontrager said.

    'I know.'

    'What are we going to do?'

    'I'm going to try to find him before they do.'

    'I'll go with you.'

    'No, Josh. I can't ask you to do that.'

    'Well, with all due respect, I don't remember you asking. It's something I'm volunteering for. Okay?'

    Jessica lowered her voice as a pair of CSU officers walked by. 'Josh, there's a good chance I'm going off the reservation here. There's a very good chance I'm going to lose my job tonight. Maybe worse.'

    Bontrager took a few steps away, looked out over the scene. The medical examiner's blue and white van came rolling up slowly. They would soon be loading Dennis Stansfield's body into the back for transport. Bontrager turned back. 'Remember my first days on the job?'

    Jessica remembered them well. They'd been investigating a case that eventually took them up the Schuylkill River into Berks County. Josh Bontrager had been on temporary assignment. 'I remember.'

    'Kevin wasn't too crazy about me at first, you know.'

    'It just takes a little time for him to warm up to people.'

    Bontrager looked at her, offered a smile. 'Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania may not be a hotbed of intellectuals, but we do know people,' he said. 'I knew right away what a closed group this is. I was the new guy, and a really inexperienced guy at that.'

    Jessica just listened. She had gone through a brutal initiation period herself.

    'In those first few months I made a lot of mistakes.'

    'You did fine, Josh.'

    'No, it only looked that way. I can't tell you how many times Kevin took me aside and showed me the ropes. How many times he covered for me.' Bontrager put his hands in his pockets. He looked across the cemetery. 'Nobody wanted me to have this job. Not really. I heard all the jokes, you know. All the stuff said behind my back. People thought I didn't, but I did.'

    Jessica remembered well the hard time Josh had gotten. It was always bad enough for the new guy in the unit, but doubly so for Josh Bontrager, considering his background.

    'You toughed it out, Josh,' Jessica said. 'You've earned the right to be here. You're a damned good detective.'

    Bontrager shrugged. 'Well, it was you and Kevin who went to bat for me back then. I wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for you guys. If I lose it all tonight, I can live with that.'

    'It might get worse than that, you know. Much worse.'

    Josh Bontrager looked at her. Sometimes, with his clear eyes, open smile, and seemingly untamable cowlick, he looked like a kid, some country boy who'd got off 1-95 at the wrong exit and wandered into the city. Other times, like right at this moment, he looked like a homicide detective with the Philadelphia Police Department.

    'The Amish have an old saying,' Bontrager said. "'Courage is fear that has said its prayers."' He drew his Glock, checked the action, holstered it, snapped it in. 'I've said my prayers, Jess.'

    Jessica glanced at the crime scene, then back. 'Thanks, Josh.'

    'I'm going to lock my car,' Bontrager said. 'I'll be right back.'

    As Josh walked across the street, Jessica thought about what Byrne had said.

    It's always been about the music.

    Before she could make a mental list of their options her phone rang. It was David Albrecht. She answered.

    'David, now is not really a good—'

    There was static on the line. 'What's going on?' he asked.

    'What do you mean?'

    'I heard the call go out. Is there another victim?'

    'What do you mean, you heard the call go out?'

    'I heard it on the police radio.'

    'You have a scanner?'

    'Well, yeah,' he said. 'Of course.'

    Jessica hadn't considered this. It made sense. 'Where are you, David?'

    'I'm following Detective Byrne.'

    Jessica's pulse spiked. She waved Bontrager over. 'You're with Kevin?'

    'I'm right behind him. He was parked near the hotel. I saw a woman in the van. I thought you guys were together. I followed.'

    'Where are you?'

    'Hang on,' Albrecht said. 'Let me check my GPS.'

    A few agonizing seconds passed.

    'We're on Bells Mill Road.'

    Bells Mill Road cut through the northeast section of Fairmount Park, traversing the Wissahickon Creek just west of Chestnut Hill.

    'Do you know where he's going?' Jessica asked.

    'Not a clue,' Albrecht said. 'But I kind of like it that way. This is so—'

    'Which way are you heading?'

    'We're going east. Northeast, technically. My GPS says we're coming up on something called Forbidden Drive. Is that the coolest name of all time or what? I think I'm changing the name of my movie to Forbidden Drive.'

    'David, I want you to—'

    'Hang on.' A loud blast of static. The coming storm was playing havoc with the signal. 'He's slowing down. I'll call you right back.'

    'David, wait.'

    Dead air. Jessica hit the button to call right back. She got David Albrecht's voicemail.

    She told Josh what Albrecht had said.

    'He's on Bells Mill?' Bontrager asked.


    'Where do you think they're going?'

    'I don't know.'

    Jessica put the location into the Google Maps app on her phone. Seconds later she had a map of the area. She really didn't know anything about that part of the park. She fished out her keys.

    'Let's get on the road,' she said. 'We'll figure it out on the way.'

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