Bosch didn’t mind the wait. The view was spectacular. He didn’t bother with the waiting room couch. Instead he stood with his face a foot from the glass and took in the view that ranged from the rooftops of downtown to the Pacific Ocean. He was fifty-nine floors up in the U.S. Bank Tower, and Creighton was making him wait because it was something he always did going all the way back to his days at Parker Center, where the waiting room only had a low-angle view of the back of City Hall. Creighton had moved a mere five blocks west since his days with the Los Angeles Police Department, but he certainly had risen far beyond that to the lofty heights of the city’s financial gods.
Still, view or no view, Bosch didn’t know why anyone would keep offices in the tower. The tallest building west of the Mississippi, it had previously been the target of two foiled terrorist plots. Bosch imagined there had to be a general uneasiness added to the daily pressures of work for every soul who entered its glass doors each morning. Relief might soon come in the form of the Wilshire Grand Center, a glass-sheathed spire rising to the sky a few blocks away. When finished it would take the distinction of tallest building west of the Mississippi from the U.S. Bank Tower. It would probably take the target as well.
Bosch loved any opportunity to see his city from up high. When he was a young detective he would often take extra shifts as a spotter in one of the department’s airships just to take a ride above Los Angeles and be reminded of its seemingly infinite vastness.
He looked down at the 110 freeway and saw it was backed up all the way down through South-Central. He also noted the number of helipads on the tops of the buildings below him. The helicopter had become the commuter vessel of the elite. He had heard that even some of the higher-contract basketball players on the Lakers and Clippers took helos to work at the Staples Center.
The glass was thick enough to keep out any sound. The city below was silent. The only thing Bosch heard was the receptionist behind him answering the phone with same greeting over and over: “Trident Security, how can I help you?”
Bosch’s eye held on a fast-moving patrol car going south on Figueroa toward L.A. Live. He saw the 01 painted large on the trunk and knew that the car was from Central Division. Soon it was followed in the air by an LAPD airship that moved at a lower altitude than the floor he stood on. Bosch tracked it but was pulled away by a voice from behind.
He turned to see a woman standing in the middle of the waiting room. She wasn’t the receptionist.
“I’m Gloria. We spoke on the phone,” she said.
“Right, yes,” Bosch said. “Mr. Creighton’s assistant.”
“Yes, nice to meet you. You can come back now.”
“Good. Any longer and I was going to jump.”
She didn’t smile. She led Bosch through a door into a hallway with framed watercolors perfectly spaced on the walls.
“It’s impact-resistant glass,” she said. “It can take the force of a category five hurricane.”
“Good to know,” Bosch said. “And I was only joking. Your boss had a history of keeping people waiting—back when he was a deputy chief with the police department.”
“Oh, really? I haven’t noticed it here.”
This made no sense to Bosch since she had just fetched him from the waiting room fifteen minutes after the appointed meeting time.
“He must’ve read it in a management book back when he was climbing the ranks,” Bosch said. “You know, keep ’em waiting even if they’re on time. Gives you the upper hand when you finally bring them into the room, lets them know you are a busy man.”
“I’m not familiar with that business philosophy.”
“Probably more of a cop philosophy.”
They entered an office suite where there were two separate desk arrangements, one occupied by a man in his twenties wearing a suit and the other empty and most likely belonging to Gloria. They walked between the desks to a door. Gloria opened it and then stepped to the side.
“Go on in,” she said. “Can I bring you a bottle of water?”
“No thanks,” Bosch said. “I’m fine.”
Bosch entered an even larger room with a desk area to the left and an informal seating area on the right with a couple of couches facing each other across a glass-topped coffee table. Creighton was sitting behind his desk—with Bosch it was going to be formal.
It had been more than a decade since Bosch had seen Creighton in person. He could not remember the occasion but assumed it was a squad meeting where Creighton came in and made an announcement concerning the overtime budget or the department’s travel protocols. Back then Creighton was the head bean counter—in charge of budgeting for the department among his other management duties. He was known for instituting strict policies on overtime that required detailed explanations to be written on green cards that were subject to supervisor approval. Since that approval or disapproval usually came after the extra hours were already worked, the new system was viewed by the rank and file as an effort to dissuade cops from working overtime or, worse yet, get them to work overtime and then deny authorization or replace it with comp time. It was during this posting that Creighton became universally known as “Cretin” by the rank and file. Though Creighton left the department for the private sector not long after, the “greenies” were still in use. The mark he left on the department had not been a daring rescue or a gun battle or the takedown of an apex predator. It had been the green overtime card.
“Harry, come in,” Creighton said. “Sit down.”
Bosch moved to the desk. Creighton was a few years older but in good shape. He stood behind the desk with his hand held forward. He wore a gray suit that was tailor-cut to his wiry frame. He looked like money. Bosch shook his hand and then sat down in front of the desk. He hadn’t gotten dressed up for the appointment. He was in blue jeans, a blue denim shirt, and a charcoal corduroy jacket he’d had for at least twelve years. These days Bosch’s work suits from his days with the department were wrapped in plastic. He didn’t want to pull one of them out just for a meeting with Cretin.
“Chief, how are you?” he said.
“It’s not ‘chief’ anymore,” Creighton said with a laugh. “Those days are long ago. Call me John.”
“Sorry to keep you waiting out there. I had a client on the phone and, well, the client always comes first. Am I right?”
“Sure, no problem. I enjoyed the view.”
The view through the window behind Creighton was in the opposite direction, stretching northeasterly across the Civic Center and to the snow-capped mountains in San Bernardino. But Bosch guessed that the mountains weren’t the reason Creighton picked this office. It was the Civic Center. From his desk Creighton looked down on the spire of City Hall, the Police Administration Building and the Los Angeles Times. Creighton was above them all.
“It is truly spectacular seeing the world from this angle,” Creighton said.
Bosch nodded and got down to business.
“So,” he said. “What can I do for you…John?”
“Well, first of all, I appreciate you coming in without really knowing why I wished to see you. Gloria told me she had a difficult time convincing you to come in.”
“Yeah, well, I’m sorry about that. But like I told her, if this is about a job I’m not interested. I’ve got a job.”
“I heard. San Fernando. But that’s gotta be part time, right?”
He said it with a slightly mocking tone and Bosch remembered a line from a movie he once saw: “If you’re not cop, you’re little people.” It also held that if you worked for a little department you were still little people.
“It keeps me as busy as I want to be,” he said. “I also have a private ticket. I pick up stuff from time to time on that.”
“All referrals, correct?” Creighton said.
Bosch looked at him a moment.
“Am I supposed to be impressed that you checked me out?” he finally said. “I’m not interested in working here. I don’t care what the pay is, I don’t care what the cases are.”
“Well, let me just ask you something, Harry,” Creighton said. “Do you know what we do here?”
For a moment Bosch looked over Creighton’s shoulder and out at the mountains before answering.
“I know you are high-level security for those who can afford it,” he said.
“Exactly,” Creighton said.
He held up three fingers on his right hand in what Bosch assumed was supposed to be a trident.
“Trident Security,” Creighton said. “Specializing in financial, technological, and personal security. I started the California branch ten years ago. We have bases here, New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami, London, and Frankfurt. We are about to open in Istanbul. We are a very large operation with thousands of clients and even more connections in our fields of expertise.”
“Good for you,” Bosch said.
He had spent about ten minutes on his laptop reading up on Trident before coming in. The upscale security venture was founded in New York in 1996 by a shipping magnate named Dennis Laughton, who had been abducted and ransomed in the Philippines. Laughton first hired a former NYPD police commissioner to be his front man and had followed suit in every city where he opened a base, plucking a local chief or high-ranking commander from the local police department to make a media splash and secure the absolute must-have of local police cooperation. The word was that ten years ago Laughton had tried to hire L.A.’s police chief but was turned down and then went to Creighton as a second choice.
“I told your assistant I wasn’t interested in a job with Trident,” Bosch said. “She said it wasn’t about that. So why don’t you tell me what it is about so we can both get on with our days.”
“I can assure you, I am not offering you a job with Trident,” Creighton said. “To be honest, we must have full cooperation and respect from the LAPD to do what we do and to handle the delicate matters that involve our clients and the police. If we were to bring you in as a Trident associate there could be a problem.”
“You’re talking about my lawsuit.”
For most of the last year Bosch had been in the middle of a protracted lawsuit against the department where he had worked for more than thirty years. He sued because he believed he had been illegally forced into retirement by the department. The case had drawn ill will toward Bosch from within the ranks. It did not seem to matter that during his time with a badge he had brought more than a hundred murderers to justice. The lawsuit was settled, but the ill will continued from some quarters of the department, mostly the quarter at the top.
“So if you brought me into Trident that would not be good for your relations with the LAPD,” Bosch said. “I get that. But you want me for something. What is it?”
Creighton nodded. It was time to get down to it.
“Do you know the name Whitney Vance?” he asked.
“Of course I do,” he said.
“Yes, well, he is a client,” Creighton said. “As is his company, Advance Engineering.”
“Whitney Vance has got to be eighty years old.”
Creighton opened the top middle drawer of his desk and removed a document. He put it on the desk between them. Bosch could see it was a printed check with an attached receipt. He wasn’t wearing his glasses and was unable to read the amount or the other details.
“He wants to speak to you,” Creighton finished.
“About what?” Bosch asked.
“I don’t know. He said it was a private matter and he specifically asked for you by name. He said he would discuss the matter only with you. He had this certified check drawn for ten thousand dollars. It is yours to keep for meeting him, whether or not the appointment leads to further work.”
Bosch didn’t know what to say. At the moment he was flush because of the lawsuit settlement, but he had put most of the money into long-term investment accounts designed to carry him comfortably into old age with a solid stake left over for his daughter. Meantime she still had three years of college and then graduate school tuition ahead of her. She had some generous scholarships but he was still on the hook for the rest of it. There was no doubt in his mind that $10,000 could be put to good use.
“When and where is this appointment going to be?” he finally said.
“Tomorrow morning at nine at Mr. Vance’s home in Pasadena,” Creighton said. “The address is on the check receipt. You might want to dress a little nicer than that.”
Bosch ignored the sartorial jab. From an inside jacket pocket he took out his eyeglasses. He put them on as he reached across the desk and took the check. It was made out to his full name, and Bosch wondered how Vance or Creighton knew about that.
There was a perforated line running across the bottom of the check. Below it was the address and appointment time as well as the admonition, “Don’t bring a firearm.” Bosch folded the check along the perforation line and looked at Creighton as he put it into his jacket.
“I’m going to go to the bank from here,” he said. “I’ll deposit this and if it clears I’ll be there tomorrow.”
“That will not be a problem.”
“I guess that’s it then,” he said.
He stood up to go.
“There is one thing, Bosch,” Creighton said.
Bosch noted that he had dropped from first name to last name status with Creighton inside of ten minutes.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“I have no idea what the old man is going to ask you, but I’m very protective of him,” Creighton said. “He is more than a client and I don’t want to see him taken for a ride at this point in his life. Whatever the task is he wants you to perform, I want to be in the loop.”
“A ride? Unless I missed something, you called me, Creighton. If anybody’s being taken for a ride, it will be me. It doesn’t matter how much he’s paying me.”
“I can assure you that’s not the case. The only ride is the ride out to Pasadena for which you just received ten thousand dollars.”
“Good. I’m going to hold you to that. I’ll see the old man tomorrow and see what this is about. But if he becomes my client then that business, whatever it is, will be between him and me. There won’t be any loop that includes you unless Vance tells me there is. That’s how I work. No matter who the client is.”
Bosch turned toward the door. When he got there he looked back at Creighton.
“Thanks for the view.”
He left and closed the door behind him. On the way out he stopped at the receptionist’s desk and got his parking receipt validated. He wanted to be sure Creighton ate the thirty bucks for that, as well as the car wash he agreed to when he valeted the car.
The Vance estate was on San Rafael near the Annandale Country Club. It was a neighborhood of old money. Homes and estates that had been passed down through generations and guarded behind stone walls and black iron fences. It was a far cry from the Hollywood Hills, where the new money went and the rich left their trash cans out on the street all week. There were no For Sale signs here. You had to know somebody, maybe even share their blood, to buy in.
Bosch parked against the curb about a hundred yards from the gate that guarded the entrance to the Vance estate. Atop it were spikes ornately disguised as flowers. For a few moments he studied the curve of the driveway beyond the gate as it wound and rose into the cleft of two rolling green hills and then disappeared. There was no sign of any structure, not even a garage. All of that would be well back from the street, buffered by geography, iron, and money. But Bosch knew that Whitney Vance, eighty-five years old, was up there somewhere beyond those money-colored hills waiting for him with something on his mind. Something that required a man from the other side of the spiked fence.
Bosch was twenty minutes early for the appointment and decided to use the time to review several stories he had found on the Internet and printed out that morning.
The general contours of Whitney Vance’s life were known to Bosch, as they were most likely known to most Californians. But he still found the details fascinating and even admirable in that Vance was the rare recipient of a rich inheritance who had turned his silver spoon into gold. He was the fourth-generation Pasadena scion of a mining family that extended all the way back to the California gold rush. Gold was what drew Vance’s great-grandfather west but not what the family fortune was founded on. Frustrated by the hunt for gold, the great-grandfather established the state’s first strip mining operation, extracting millions of tons of iron ore out of the earth in San Bernardino County. Vance’s grandfather then followed up with a second strip mine further south in Imperial County, and his father parlayed that success into a steel mill and fabrication plant that helped support the dawning aviation industry. At the time the face of that industry belonged to Howard Hughes, and he counted Nelson Vance as first a contractor and then a partner in many different aviation endeavors. Hughes would become godfather to Nelson Vance’s only child.
Whitney Vance was born in 1931 and as a young man apparently set out to blaze a unique path for himself. He initially went off to the University of Southern California to study filmmaking but eventually dropped out and came back to the family fold, transferring to the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, the school “Uncle Howard” had attended. It was Hughes who urged young Whitney to study aeronautical engineering at Caltech.
As with the elders of his family, when it was his turn Vance pushed the family business in new and increasingly successful directions, always with a connection to the family’s original product: steel. He won numerous government contracts to manufacture aircraft parts and mechanisms, and founded Advance Engineering, which held the patents on many of them. Couplings that were used for the safe fueling of aircraft were perfected in the family steel mill and were still used today at every airport in the world. Ferrite extracted from the iron ore culled from Vance mining operations was used in the earliest efforts to build aircraft that avoided radar detection. These processes were meticulously patented and protected by Vance and guaranteed his company’s participation in the decades-long development of stealth technologies. Vance and his company were part of the so-called military-industrial complex, and the Vietnam War saw their value grow exponentially. Every mission in or out of that country over the entire length of the war involved equipment from Advance Engineering. Bosch remembered seeing the company logo—an arrow through the middle of the A—imprinted on the steel walls of every helicopter he had ever flown on in Vietnam.
Bosch was startled by a sharp rap on the window beside him. He looked up to see a uniformed Pasadena patrol officer. He checked the rearview and saw the black and white parked behind him. He realized he had become so engrossed in his reading that he had not even heard the cop car come up on him.
He had to turn on the Cherokee’s engine to lower the window. He knew what this was about. A twenty-year-old vehicle in need of paint parked outside the estate of a family that helped build the state of California constituted a suspicious activity. It didn’t matter that the car was freshly cleaned or that Bosch’s hair was combed and he was wearing a crisp suit and tie rescued from a plastic storage bag. It had taken less than fifteen minutes for the police to respond to his intrusion into the neighborhood.
“I know how this looks, officer,” he began. “But I have an appointment across the street in about five minutes and I was just—”
“That’s wonderful,” the cop said. “Do you mind stepping out of the car?”
Bosch looked at him for a moment. He saw the nameplate above his breast pocket said Cooper.
“You’re kidding, right?” he asked.
“No, sir, I’m not,” Cooper said. “Please step out of the car.”
Bosch took a deep breath, opened the door, and did as he was told. He raised his hands to shoulder height and said, “I’m a police officer.”
Cooper immediately tensed as Bosch knew he would.
“I’m unarmed,” Bosch said quickly. “My weapon’s in the glove box.”
At that moment he was thankful for the edict typed on the check stub telling him to come to the Vance appointment unarmed.
“Let me see some ID,” Cooper demanded.
Bosch carefully reached into an inside pocket in his suit coat and pulled his badge case. Cooper studied the detective’s badge and then the ID.
“This says you’re a reserve officer,” he said.
“Yep,” Bosch said. “Part timer.”
“About fifteen miles off your reservation, aren’t you? What are you doing here, Detective Bosch?”
He handed the badge case back and Bosch put it away.
“Well, I was trying to tell you,” he said. “I have an appointment—which you are going to make me late for—with Mr. Vance, who I’m guessing you know lives right over there.”
Bosch pointed toward the black gate.
“Is this appointment police business?” Cooper asked.
“It’s actually none of your business,” Bosch replied.
They held each other’s cold stares for a long moment, neither man blinking. Finally Bosch spoke.
“Mr. Vance is waiting for me,” he said. “Guy like that, he’ll probably ask why I’m late, and he’ll probably do something about it. You got a first name, Cooper?”
“Yeah, it’s fuck you,” he said. “Have a nice day.”
He turned and started back toward the patrol car.
“Thank you, officer,” Bosch called after him.
Bosch got back into his car and immediately pulled away from the curb. If the old car still had the juice to leave rubber, he would have done so. But the most he could show Cooper, who remained parked at the curb, was a plume of blue smoke from the exhaust pipe.
He pulled into the entrance channel at the gate to the Vance estate and up to a camera and communication box. Almost immediately he was greeted by a voice.
It was male, young and tiredly arrogant. Bosch leaned out the window and spoke loudly even though he knew he probably didn’t have to.
“Harry Bosch to see Mr. Vance. I have an appointment.”
After a moment the gate in front of him started to automatically roll open.
“Follow the driveway to the parking apron by the security post,” the voice said. “I will meet you there at the metal detector. Leave all weapons and recording devices in the glove compartment of your vehicle.”
“Done,” Bosch said.
“Drive up,” the voice said.
The gate was all the way open now and Bosch drove through. He followed the cobblestone driveway through a finely manicured set of rolling emerald hills until he came to a second fence line and a guard shack. The double-fencing security measures at the estate were similar to those employed at most prisons Bosch had visited—of course, with the opposite intention of keeping people out instead of in.
The second gate rolled open and a uniformed guard stepped out of a booth to signal Bosch through and to the parking apron. As he passed Bosch waved a hand and noticed the Trident Security patch on the shoulder of the guard’s navy blue uniform.
After parking Bosch was instructed to place his keys, phone, watch, and belt in a plastic tub and then walk through an airport-style metal detector while two more Trident men watched. They returned everything but the phone, which they explained would be placed in the glove box of his car.
“Anybody else get the irony here?” he asked as he put his belt back on. “You know, the family made their money on metal—now you have to go through a metal detector to get inside the house.”
Neither of the guards said anything.
“Okay, I guess it’s just me then,” Bosch said.
Once he buckled his belt he was passed off to the next level of security, a man in a suit with the requisite earbud and wrist mike and the dead-eyed stare to go with them. He did not say his name. He escorted Bosch wordlessly through the delivery entrance of a massive gray stone mansion that Bosch guessed would rival anything the du Ponts or Vanderbilts had to offer. According to Wikipedia, he was calling on six billion dollars. Bosch had no doubt as he entered that this would be the closest to American royalty he would ever get.
He was led to a room paneled in dark wood with dozens of framed eight-by-ten photographs hung in four rows across one wall. There were a couple of couches and a bar at the end of the room. The escort in the suit pointed Bosch to one of the couches.
“Sir, have a seat and Mr. Vance’s secretary will come for you when he is ready to see you.”
Bosch took a seat on the couch facing the wall of photos.
“Would you like some water?” the suit asked.
“No, I’m fine,” Bosch said.
The suit took a position next to the door they had entered through and clasped one wrist with the other hand in a posture that said he was alert and ready for anything.
Bosch used the waiting time to study the photographs. They offered a record of Whitney Vance’s life and the people he had met over the course of it. The first photo depicted Howard Hughes and a young teenager he assumed was Vance. They were leaning against the unpainted metal skin of a plane. From there the photos appeared to run left to right in chronological order. They depicted Vance with numerous well-known figures of industry, politics and the media. Bosch couldn’t put a name to every person Vance posed with, but from Lyndon Johnson to Larry King he knew who most of them were. In all the photos Vance displayed the same half smile, the corner of his mouth on the left side curled up, as if to communicate to the camera lens that it wasn’t his idea to pose for a picture. The face grew older picture to picture, the eyelids more hooded, but the smile was always the same.
In the photo with Larry King, Vance and King were seated across from each other in the CNN TV studio where King had conducted interviews for more than two decades. Bosch could see that there was a book standing up on the counter between them.
He got up and went to the wall to look more closely at the photo. He put on his glasses and leaned in close to read the book’s title.
STEALTH: The Making of the Disappearing Plane
By Whitney P. Vance
The title jogged loose a memory and Bosch recalled something about Whitney Vance writing a family history that the critics trashed more for what was left out than left in. His father, Nelson Vance, had been a brutal businessman and controversial political figure in his day. He was said but never proven to be a member of a cabal of wealthy industrialists who were supporters of eugenics—the so-called science of improving the human race through controlled breeding that would eliminate undesirable attributes. After the Nazis employed a similar but perverted doctrine to carry out genocide in World War II, eugenics fell into disfavor and people like Nelson Vance hid their beliefs and affiliations.
His son’s book amounted to little more than a vanity project full of hero worship and little mention of the negatives. Whitney Vance had become such a recluse in his later life that the book was merely a reason to bring him out into public light and ask him about the things omitted. Once he had him on live TV, King probably asked Vance little about what was in the book.
Bosch turned from the photo to a woman standing by the entrance to a hallway on the other side of the room. She looked like she was at least seventy years old, and Bosch guessed she was a valued, longtime employee.
“I’m Mr. Vance’s secretary, Ida,” she said. “He will see you now.”
Bosch followed her into the hallway. They walked for a distance that seemed like a city block before going up a short set of stairs to another hallway, this one traversing a wing of the mansion built on a higher slope of the hill. Finally they arrived at a set of double doors and Ida ushered Bosch into Whitney Vance’s home office.
The man Bosch had come to see was sitting behind a desk, his back to an empty fireplace big enough to take shelter in during a tornado. He motioned for Bosch to come forward with a thin hand so white it looked like he was wearing a latex glove.
Bosch stepped up to the desk and Vance pointed to the lone leather chair in front of it. He made no offer to shake Bosch’s hand. As he sat, Bosch noticed that Vance was in a wheelchair with electric controls extending from the left armrest. He saw the desk was clear except for a single white piece of paper that was either blank or had its contents facedown on the polished dark wood.
“Mr. Vance,” Bosch said. “How are you?”
“I’m old—that’s how I am,” Vance said. “I have fought like hell to defeat time, but some things can’t be beat. It is hard for a man in my position to accept, but I am resigned, Mr. Bosch.”
He gestured with that bony, white hand again, taking in all of the room with a sweep.
“All of this will soon be meaningless,” he said.
He offered the smile Bosch had seen on the photos in the waiting room, the upward curve on only one side. Vance couldn’t complete a smile. According to the photos Bosch had seen, he never could.
Bosch didn’t quite know how to respond to the old man’s words. Instead, he just nodded and pressed on with an introduction he had thought about repeatedly since meeting with Creighton.
“Well, Mr. Vance, I was told you wanted to see me and you have paid me quite of bit of money to be here. It may not be a lot to you but it is to me. What can I do for you, sir?”
Vance cut the smile and nodded.
“A man who gets right to the point,” he said. “I like that. I read about you in the newspaper. Last year, I believe. The case with that doctor in Beverly Hills and the shootout. You seemed to me like a man who stands his ground, Mr. Bosch. They put a lot of pressure on you but you stood up to it. I like that. I need that. There’s not a lot of it around anymore.”
“What do you want me to do?” Bosch asked again.
“I want you to find someone for me,” Vance said. “Someone who might never have existed.”