City of Bones Excerpt
Here is a compilation excerpt — six abbreviated segments from the book that will help set up the story.
The old lady changed her mind about dying but by then it had been too late. She dug her fingers into the paint and plaster of the nearby wall until most of her fingernails had broken off. Then she had gone for the neck, scrabbling to push the bloodied fingertips up and under the cord. She broke four toes kicking at the walls. She had tried so hard, shown such a desperate will to live, that it made Harry Bosch wonder what had happened before. Where was that determination and will and why had it deserted her until after she had put the extension cord noose around her neck and kicked over the chair? Why had it hidden from her?
These were not official questions that would be raised in his death report. But they were the things Bosch couldn’t avoid thinking about as he sat in his car outside the Splendid Age Retirement Home on Sunset Boulevard east of the Hollywood Freeway. It was 4:20 p.m. on the first day of the year. Bosch had drawn holiday call out duty.
The day more than half over and that duty consisted of two suicide runs — one a gunshot, the other the hanging. Both victims were women. In both cases there was evidence of depression and desperation. Isolation. New Year’s Day was always a big day for suicides. While most people greeted the day with a sense of hope and renewal, there were those who saw it as a good day to die, some — like the old lady — not realizing their mistake until it was too late.
Bosch looked up through the windshield and watched as the latest victim’s body, on a wheeled stretcher and covered in a green blanket, was loaded into the coroner’s blue van. He saw there was one other occupied stretcher in the van and knew it was from the first suicide — a 34-year-old actress who had shot herself while parked at a Hollywood overlook on Mulholland Drive. Bosch and the body crew had followed one case to the other.
Bosch’s cell phone chirped and he welcomed the intrusion into his thoughts on small deaths. It was Mankiewicz, the watch sergeant at the Hollywood Division of the Los Angeles Police Department.
“You finished with that yet?”
“I’m about to clear.”
“A changed-my-mind suicide. You got something else?”
“Yeah. And I didn’t think I should go out on the radio with it. Must be a slow day for the media — getting more what’s-happening calls from reporters than I am getting service calls from citizens. They all want to do something on the first one, the actress on Mulholland. You know, a death of a Hollywood dream story. And they’d probably jump all over this latest call, too.”
“Yeah, what is it?”
“A citizen up in Laurel Canyon. On Wonderland. He just called up and said his dog came back from a run in the woods with a bone in its mouth. The guy says it’s human — an arm bone from a kid.”
Bosch almost groaned. There were four or five call outs like this a year. Hysteria always followed by simple explanation: animal bones. Through the windshield he saluted the two body movers from the coroner’s office as they headed to the front doors of the van.
“I know what you’re thinking, Harry. Not another bone run. You’ve done it a hundred times and it’s always the same thing. Coyote, deer, whatever. But listen, this guy with the dog, he’s an MD. And he say’s there’s no doubt. It’s a humerus. That’s the upper arm bone. He says it’s a child, Harry. And then get this, he said . . .”
There was silence while Mankiewicz apparently looked for his notes. The blue van pulled off into traffic. When Mankiewicz came back he was obviously reading.
“The bone’s got a fracture clearly visible just above the medial epicondyle, whatever that is.”
Bosch’s jaw tightened. He felt a slight tickle of electric current go down the back of his neck.
“That’s off my notes, I don’t know if I am saying it right. The point is this doctor says it was just a kid, Harry. So could you humor us and go check out this humerus?”
Bosch didn’t respond.
“Sorry, had to get that in.”
“Yeah, that was funny, Mank. What’s the address?”
Mankiewicz gave it to him and told him he had already dispatched a patrol team.
“You were right to keep it off the air. Let’s try to keep it that way.”
Mankiewicz said he would. Bosch closed his phone and started the car. He glanced over at the entrance to the retirement home before pulling away from the curb. There was nothing about it that looked splendid to him. The woman who had hung herself in the closet of her tiny bedroom had no next of kin, according to the operators of the home. In death, she would be treated the way she had been in life, left alone and forgotten.
Bosch pulled away from the curb and headed toward Laurel Canyon.
The woods were dark long before the sun disappeared. The overhead canopy created by a tall stand of Monterrey pines knocked down most of the light before it got to the ground. Bosch used the flashlight and made his way up the hillside in the direction in which he had heard the dog moving through the brush. It was slow moving and hard work. The ground contained a foot-thick layer of pine needles that gave way often beneath Bosch’s boots as he tried for purchase on the incline. Soon his hands were sticky with sap from grabbing branches to keep himself upright.
It took him nearly ten minutes to go thirty yards up the hillside. Then the ground started to level off and the light got better as the tall trees thinned. Bosch looked around for the dog but didn’t see it. He called down to the street, though he could no longer see it or Dr. Guyot.
“Doctor Guyot? Can you hear me?”
“Yes, I hear you.”
“Whistle for your dog.”
He then heard a three part whistle. It was distinct but very low, having the same trouble getting through the trees and underbrush as the sunlight had. Bosch tried to repeat it and after a few tries thought he had it right. But the dog didn’t come.
Bosch pressed on, staying on the level ground because he believed that if someone was going to bury or abandon a body then it would be done on even ground as opposed to the steep slope. Following a path of least resistance, he moved into a stand of acacia trees. And here he immediately came upon a spot where the earth had recently been disturbed. It had been overturned, as if a tool or an animal had been randomly rooting in the soil. He used his foot to push some of the dirt and twigs aside and then realized they weren’t twigs.
He dropped to his knees and used his flashlight to study the short brown bones scattered over a square foot of dirt. He believed he was looking at the disjointed fingers of a hand. A small hand. A child’s hand.
Bosch stood up. He realized that he had brought no means with him for collecting the bones. Picking them up and carrying them down the hill would violate every tenet of evidence collection.
The Polaroid camera hung on a shoelace around his neck. He raised it now and took a close up shot of the bones. He then stepped back and took a wider shot of the spot beneath the acacia trees.
In the distance he heard Doctor Guyot’s weak whistle. Bosch went to work with the yellow plastic crime scene tape. He tied a short length of it around the trunk of one of the acacia trees and then strung a boundary around the trees. Thinking about how he would work the case the following morning, he stepped out of the cover of the acacia trees and looked for something to use as an aerial marker. He found a nearby growth of sagebrush. He wrapped the crime scene tape around and over top the bush several times.
When he was finished it was almost dark. He made another cursory look around the area but knew that a flashlight search was useless and the ground would need to be exhaustively covered in the morning. Using a small penknife attached to his key chain, he began cutting four-foot lengths of the crime scene tape off the roll.
Making his way back down the hill, he tied the strips off at intervals on tree branches and bushes. At one point on the incline the soft ground suddenly gave way and he fell, tumbling hard into the base of a pine tree. The tree impacted his midsection, tearing his shirt and badly scratching his side.
Bosch didn’t move for several seconds. He thought he might have cracked his ribs on the right side. His breathing was difficult and painful. He groaned loudly and slowly pulled himself up on the tree trunk so that he could continue to follow the voices.
He soon came back down into the street where Dr. Guyot was waiting with his dog.
“Oh my, what happened?” Guyot cried out.
“Nothing. I fell.”
“You’re shirt is . . . there’s blood.”
“Comes with the job.”
Teresa Corazon lived in a Mediterranean mansion with a stone turn around circle complete with koi pond in front. Eight years earlier, when Bosch had shared a brief relationship with her, she had lived in a one bedroom condominium. The riches of television and celebrity had paid for the house and the lifestyle that came with it. She was not even remotely like the woman who used to show up at his house unannounced at midnight with a cheap bottle of red wine from Trader Joe’s and a video of her favorite movie to watch. The woman who was unabashedly ambitious but not yet skilled at using her position to enrich herself.
Bosch knew he now served as a reminder of what she had been and what she had lost in order to gain all that she had. It was no wonder their interactions were now few and far between but as tense as a visit to the dentist when they were unavoidable.
He parked on the circle and got out with the shoebox and the Polaroids. He looked into the pond as he came around the car and could see the dark shapes of the fish moving below the surface. He smiled, thinking about the movie, Chinatown, and how often they had watched it the year they were together. He remembered how much she enjoyed the portrayal of the coroner. He wore a black butcher’s apron and ate a sandwich while examining a body. Bosch doubted she had the same sense of humor about things anymore.
The light hanging over the heavy wood door to the house went on and Corazon opened it before he got there. She was wearing black slacks and a cream-colored blouse. She was probably on her way to a New Year’s party. She looked past him at the slickback he had been driving.
“Let’s make this quick before that car drips oil on my stones.”
“Hello to you, too, Teresa.”
She pointed at the shoe box.
“This is it.”
He handed her the Polaroids and started taking the lid off the box. It was clear she was not asking him in for a glass of New Year’s champagne.
“You want to do this right here?”
“I don’t have a lot of time. I thought you’d be here sooner. What moron took these?”
“That would be me.”
“I can’t tell anything from these. Do you have a glove?”
Bosch pulled a Latex glove out of his coat pocket and handed it to her. He took the photos back and put them in an inside pocket of his jacket. She expertly snapped the glove on and reached into the open box. She held the bone up and turned it in the light. He was silent. He could smell her perfume. It was strong as usual, a holdover from her days when she spent most of her time in autopsy suites.
After a five second examination she put the bone back down in the box.
She looked up at him with a glare as she snapped off the glove.
“It’s the humerus. The upper arm. I’d say a child of about ten. You may no longer respect my skills, Harry, but I do still have them.”
She dropped the glove into the box on top of the bone. Bosch could roll with all the verbal sparring from her but it bothered him that she did that with the glove, dropping it on the child’s bone like that.
He reached into the box and took the glove out. He remembered something and held the glove back out to her.
“The man whose dog found this said there was a fracture on the bone. A healed fracture. Do you want to take a look and see if you —“
“No. I’m late for an engagement. What you need to know right now is if it is human. You now have that confirmation. Further examination will come later under proper settings at the medical examiner’s office. Now, I really have to go. I’ll be there tomorrow morning.”
Bosch held her eyes for a long moment.
“Sure, Teresa, have a good time tonight.”
She broke off the stare and folded her arms across her chest. He carefully put the top back on the shoebox, nodded to her and headed back to his car. He heard the heavy door close behind him.
Thinking of the movie again as he passed the koi pond, he spoke the film’s final line quietly to himself.
“Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”
He got in the car and drove home, his hand holding the shoebox secure on the seat next to him.
Bosch and Edgar spread the twelve cadets out in the areas adjacent to the stand of acacia trees and had them begin conducting side by side searches. Bosch then went down and brought up the two K-9 teams to supplement the search.
Once things were underway he left Edgar with the cadets and went back to the acacias to see what progress had been made. He found Dr. Kohl sitting on an equipment crate and supervising the placement of wooden stakes into the ground so that strings could be used to set the excavation grid.
Bosch had worked one prior case with Kohl and knew she was very thorough and good at what she did. She was in her late thirties with a tennis player’s build and tan. Bosch had once run across her at a city park where she was playing tennis with a twin sister. They had drawn a crowd. It looked like somebody hitting the ball off of a mirrored wall.
Kohl’s straight blonde hair fell forward and hid her eyes as she looked down at the oversized clipboard on her lap. She was making notations on a piece of paper with a grid already printed on it. Bosch looked over her shoulder at the chart. Kohl was labeling the individual blocks with letters of the alphabet as the corresponding stakes were placed in the ground. At the top of the page she had written City of Bones.
Bosch reached down and tapped the chart where she had written the caption.
“Why do you call it that?”
She shrugged her shoulders.
“Because we’re setting out the streets and the blocks of what will become a city to us,” she said, running her fingers over some of the lines on the chart in illustration. “At least while we’re working here it will feel like it. Our little city.”
“In every murder is the tale of a city,” he said.
She looked up at him.
“Who said that?”
“I don’t know. Somebody did.”
He turned his attention to Corazon who was squatting over the small bones on the surface of the soil, studying them while the lens of the video camera studied her. He was thinking of something to say about it when his rover was keyed and he took it off his belt.
“Edgar. Better come on back over here, Harry. We already have something.”
Edgar was standing in an almost level spot in the brush about forty yards from the acacia trees. A half dozen of the cadets had formed a circle and were looking down at something in the two-foot high brush. The police chopper was circling in a tighter circle above.
Bosch got to the circle and looked down. It was a child’s skull partially submerged in the soil, its hollow eyes staring up at him.
“Nobody touched it,” Edgar said.
Bosch pulled the radio off his belt.
“Dr. Corazon?” he said into it.
It was a long moment before her voice came back.
“Yes, I’m here. What is it?”
“We are going to have to widen the crime scene.”
On Saturday morning Bosch and Edgar met in the lobby of the medical examiner’s office and told the receptionist they had an appointment with Dr. William Golliher, the forensic anthropologist on retainer from UCLA.
“He’s waiting for you in suite A,” the receptionist said after making a call to confirm. “You know which way that is?”
Bosch nodded and they were buzzed through the gate. They took an elevator down to the basement level and were immediately greeted by the smell of the autopsy floor when they stepped out. It was a mixture of chemicals and decay that was unique in the world. Edgar immediately took a paper breathing mask out of a wall dispenser and put it on. Bosch didn’t bother.
“You really ought to, Harry,” Edgar said as they walked down the hall. “Do you know that all smells are particulate?”
Bosch looked at him.
“Thanks for that, Jerry.”
Suite A was an autopsy room reserved for Teresa Corazon for the infrequent times she actually left her administrative duties as chief medical examiner and performed an autopsy. Because the case had initially garnered her hands-on attention she had apparently authorized Golliher to use her suite. Corazon had not returned to the crime scene on Wonderland Avenue after the portable toilet incident.
They pushed through the double doors of the suite and were met by a man in blue jeans and a Hawaiian shirt.
“Please call me Bill,” Golliher said. “I guess it’s been a long two days.”
“Say that again,” Edgar said.
Golliher nodded in a friendly manner. He was about fifty with dark hair and eyes and an easy manner. He gestured toward the autopsy table that was in the center of the room. The bones that had been collected from beneath the acacia trees were now spread across the stainless steel surface.
“Well, let me tell you what’s been going on in here,” Golliher said. “As the team in the field has been collecting the evidence, I’ve been here examining the pieces, doing the radiograph work and generally trying to put the puzzle of all of this together.”
Bosch stepped over to the stainless steel table. The bones were laid out in place so as to form a partial skeleton. The most obvious pieces missing were the bones of the left arm and leg and the lower jaw. It was presumed that long ago these were the pieces that had been taken and scattered distantly by animals that had rooted in the shallow grave.
Each of the bones was marked, the larger pieces with stickers and the smaller ones with string tags. Bosch knew that notations on these markers were codes by which the location of each bone had been charted on the grid Kohl had drawn on the first day of the excavation.
“Bones can tell us much about how a person lived and died,” Golliher said somberly. “In cases of child abuse, the bones do not lie. The bones become our final evidence.”
Bosch looked back at him and realized his eyes were not dark. They actually were blue but they were deeply set and seemed haunted in some way. He was staring past Bosch at the bones on the table. After a moment he broke from this reverie and looked at Bosch.
“Let me start by saying that we are learning quite a bit from the recovered artifacts,” the anthropologist said. “But I have to tell you guys, I’ve consulted on a lot of cases but this one blows me away. I was looking at these bones and taking notes and I looked down and my notebook was smeared. I was crying, man. I was crying and I didn’t even know it at first.”
He looked back at the outstretched bones with a look of tenderness and pity. Bosch knew that the anthropologist saw the person that was once there.
“This one is bad, guys. Real bad.”
“Then give us what you’ve got so we can go out there and do our job,” Bosch said in a voice that sounded like a reverent whisper.
Golliher nodded and reached back to a nearby counter for a spiral notebook.
“Okay,” Golliher said. “Let’s start with the basics. Some of this you may already know but I’m just going to go over all of my findings, if you don’t mind.”
“We don’t mind,” Bosch said.
“Good. Then here it is. What you have here are the remains of a young male Caucasoid. Comparisons to the indices of Maresh growth standards put the age at approximately ten years old. However, as we will soon discuss, this child was the victim of severe and prolonged physical abuse. Histiologically, victims of chronic abuse often suffer from what is called growth disruption. This abuse-related stunting serves to skew age estimation. What you often get is a skeleton that looks younger than it is. So what I am saying is that this boy looks ten but is probably twelve or thirteen.”
Bosch looked over at Edgar. He was standing with his arms folded tightly across his chest, as if bracing for what he knew was ahead. Bosch took a notebook out of his jacket pocket and started writing notes in short hand.
“Time of death,” Golliher said. “This is tough. Radiological testing is far from exact in this regard. We have the coin that was buried with the body and that gives us the early marker of 1975. That helps us. What I am estimating is that this kid has been in the ground anywhere from twenty to twenty-five years. I’m comfortable with that and there is some surgical evidence we can talk about in a few minutes that adds support to that estimation.”
“So we’ve got a ten to thirteen year old kid killed twenty to twenty-five years ago,” Edgar summarized, a note of frustration in his voice.
“I know I am giving you a wide set of parameters, Detective,” Golliher said. “But at the moment it’s the best the science can do for you.”
“Not your fault, Doc.”
Bosch wrote it all down. Despite the wide spread of the estimation, it was still vitally important to set a time frame for the investigation. Golliher’s estimation put the time of death into the late ‘70s to early ‘80s. Bosch momentarily thought of Laurel Canyon in that time frame. It had been a rustic, funky enclave, part bohemian and part upscale with cocaine dealers and users, porno purveyors and burned out rock and roll hedonists on almost every street. Could the murder of a child have been part of that mix?
“Cause of death,” Golliher said. “Tell you what, let’s get to cause of death last. I want to start with the extremities and the torso, give you guys an idea of what this boy endured in his short lifetime.”
His eyes locked on Bosch’s for a moment before returning to the bones. Bosch breathed in deeply, producing a sharp pain from his damaged ribs. He knew his fear from the moment he had looked down at the small bones on the hillside was now going to be realized. He instinctively knew all along that it would come to this. That a story of horror would emerge from the overturned soil and that he would have to one more time find a place in the recesses of his mind to hide it.
He started scribbling on the pad, running the ballpoint deep into the paper, as Golliher continued
Bosch thought of the pain he was in, of how he had been unable to sleep well because of the injury to his ribs. He thought of a young boy living with the kind of pain and abuse Golliher had described.
“I gotta go wash my face,” he suddenly said. “You can continue.”
He walked to the door, shoving his notebook and pen into Edgar’s hands. In the hallway he turned right. He knew the layout of the autopsy floor and knew there were restrooms around the next turn of the corridor.
He entered the restroom and went right to an open stall. He felt nauseous and waited but nothing happened. After a long moment it passed.
Bosch walked to the sink and looked at himself in the mirror. His face was red. He bent down and used his hands to cup cold water against his face and eyes. He thought about baptisms and second chances. Of renewal. He raised his face until he was looking at himself again.
I’m going to get this guy.
He almost said it out loud.