Chapter 98


    The house was silent in a way that no small space could ever be; silent like a presence. Every so often its tranquillity was broken by rain hitting the huge windows in the great room or a branch scraping a gutter.

    Jessica had lived most of her life in a place too small, a place where the extra closet or tiny room was a premium. This was a fact of life in a Philadelphia row house. But this place - with its high ceilings, tall doorways and cavernous rooms - was too much. She didn't think she could ever live somewhere like this, although the likelihood of that happening was somewhere between never and absolutely never.

    As she peered out of the front windows, anxious to get back to the Roundhouse, her phone rang. She jumped at the sound. She hoped it was going to be Josh telling her he was on the way. It was not. It was a number she did not recognize. She answered.


    'I'm calling for Detective Byrne.'

    It was a man's voice.

    'Who am I speaking to?' Jessica asked.

    'My name is Robert Cole. I'm trying to reach Kevin Byrne. He gave me this number as a backup.'

    'I'm his partner, Detective Balzano. Is there something I can help you with?'

    'I have that report he wanted.'

    'The report?'

    'He had me red-ball a DNA test. Cold case.'

    'I'm sorry,' Jessica said. 'What agency are you with?'

    Cole went on to tell her that he ran a private, independent lab, and the work he had done for Byrne was off the record. He also told her that the job was the twenty-year-old homicide case of Gabriel Thorne.

    'How much of the file do you have?' Jessica asked.

    'I have copies of everything.'

    'The crime-scene photos?'


    'Can you send me the DNA summary and the photos of the crime scene?'

    'Sure,' Cole said. 'I can send the photos now, but it will take a few minutes to scan the DNA summary. It's on another computer.'

    Jessica gave him her email address. Thirty seconds later the file arrived on her iPhone. Jessica tapped the file, opened it.

    Cole had sent her four photographs. The first photograph was of the hallway in which she now stood. The fact that it had been taken twenty years earlier, in the precise space she now occupied, gave her a chill.

    The second photo was of the kitchen. And it was a horror show. Gabriel Thorne's body was supine on the white tile floor, lying next to the kitchen island, a pool of blood beneath him, his chest butchered.

    Jessica walked down the main hall, stopped at the kitchen, turned on the light. The room had not changed. Same island, same white tile, same light fixtures. She scanned the photo and the real room, item by item. They were eerily identical, right down to the color of the kitchen towels on the rack next to the sink.

    The other two photos were of the floor leading into the pantry, which was just off the kitchen, and the music room just off the pantry. The music room too was identical, except that now the cello in the corner did not have blood on it.

    According to the brief summary attached to the photographs, it was believed that Christa-Marie Schönburg had stabbed Gabriel

    Thorne in the music room, then followed him into the kitchen. When he collapsed, she had continued to stab him in the chest.

    Jessica tried to imagine the scene that night. She could not. But she knew what she had to do. If she was leaving shortly, locking the house behind her, she had better snuff out the candles in the music room. One by one she blew out the dozen or so candles, the scent of burned paraffin filling her head.

    When the room was dark, lit only by the gas lamps on the deck at the rear of the house, she walked back into the hall, checked her watch. Where the hell is Josh? She called him, got his voicemail.


    Jessica's phone rang again. She answered, but the call began to drop out. She ran down the hall toward the front door, but was still unable to get a signal. By the time she made it across the great room, she was able to hear. It was Robert Cole.

    'Did you get the photos?' he asked. 'I did.'

    'I'm having some trouble scanning the DNA report. I could keep trying, or I could just read it to you. Which do you prefer?'

    'Read it to me.'

    Cole read her the report. As he did, Jessica felt a cold finger run up her spine. It turned out that, in addition to Gabriel Thorne's and Christa-Marie's blood on the murder weapon and the floor of the kitchen, there were two other distinct DNA profiles found.

    In other words, two other people had been present on the night of the murder.

    What did it mean to the case? What did it mean to Christa-Marie's guilt on that night so long ago?

    Jessica felt gooseflesh break out on her arms as she listened to the rest of the report.

    She thanked Cole, hung up, her mind spinning.

    This changed everything.

    She stepped back to the front doors, opened them, fully expecting to see a sector car from the Fourteenth District at the gate. There was none. This was strange. The house would not be searched for evidence and cleared for at least twenty-four hours, and a police presence was standard procedure.

    She keyed her two-way handset, spoke into it. No response.

    What is going on?

    She closed the doors, walked back into the main hall.

    That was when Jessica Balzano heard the music.

The Echo Man
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