Dark Sacred Night Excerpt
The patrol officers had left the front door open. They thought they were doing her a favor, airing the place out. But that was a violation of crime scene protocol regarding evidence containment. Bugs could go in and out. Touch DNA could be disturbed by a breeze through the house. Odors were particulate. Airing out a crime scene meant losing part of that crime scene.
But the patrol officers didn’t know all of that. The report that Ballard had gotten from the watch lieutenant was that the body was two to three days old in a closed house with the air conditioning off. In his words, the place was as ripe as a bag of skunks.
There were two black-and-whites parked along the curb in front of Ballard. Three blue suits were standing between them, waiting for her. Ballard didn’t really expect them to have stayed inside with the body.
Up above, an airship circled at three hundred feet, holding its beam on the street. It looked like a leash of light, tethering the circling craft, keeping it from flying away.
Ballard killed the engine but sat in her city ride for a moment. She had parked in front of the gap between two houses and could look out at the lights of the city spreading in a vast carpet below. Not many people realized that Hollywood Boulevard wound up into the mountains, narrow and tight, to where it was strictly residential and far in all ways from the glitz and grime of the Hollywood Boulevard tourist mecca, where visitors posed with costumed superheroes and sidewalk stars. Up here it was money and power and Ballard knew that a murder in the hills always brought out the department’s big guns. She was just babysitting. She would not have this case for long. It would go to West Bureau Homicide or possibly even Robbery-Homicide Division downtown, depending on who was dead and what their social status was.
She looked away from the view and tapped the overhead light so she could see her notebook. She had just come from her day’s first callout, a routine break-in off Melrose, and had her notes for the report she would write once she got back to Hollywood Division. She flipped to a fresh page and wrote the time — 01:47 a.m. — and the address. She added a note about the clear and mild weather conditions. She then turned the light off and got out, leaving the blue flashers on. Moving to the back of the car, she popped the trunk to get to her crime scene kit.
It was Monday morning, her first shift of a week running solo, and Ballard knew she would need to get at least one more wear out of her suit and possibly two. That meant not fouling it with the stink of decomp. At the trunk she slipped off her jacket, folded it carefully, and placed it in one of the empty cardboard evidence boxes. She removed her crime scene coveralls from a plastic bag and pulled them on over her boots, slacks, and blouse. She zipped them up to her chin and, placing one boot and then the other up on the bumper, tightened the Velcro cuffs around her ankles. After she did the same around her wrists, her clothes were hermetically sealed.
Out of the kit she grabbed disposable gloves and the breathing mask she’d formerly used at autopsies when she was with RHD, closed the trunk, and walked up to join the three uniformed officers. As she approached, she recognized Sergeant Stan Dvorek, the area boss, and two officers whose longevity on the graveyard shift got them the cushy and slow Hollywood Hills beat.
Dvorek was balding and paunchy with the kind of hip spread that comes with too many years in a patrol car. He was leaning against the trunk of one of the cars with his arms folded in front of his chest. He was known as the Relic. Anybody who actually liked being on the midnight shift and lasted significant years on it ended up with a nickname. Dvorek was the current record holder, celebrating his tenth year on the late show just a month before. The officers with him, Anthony Anzelone and Dwight Doucette, were Caspar and Deuce. Ballard, with just three years on graveyard, had no nickname bestowed upon her yet. At least none that she knew about.
“Fellas,” Ballard said.
“Whoa, Sally Ride,” Dvorek said. “When’s the shuttle taking off?”
Ballard spread her arms to display herself. She knew the coveralls were baggy and looked like a space suit. She thought maybe she had just been christened with a nickname.
“That would be never,” she said. “So whadda we got that chased you out of the house?”
“It’s bad in there,” said Anzelone.
“It’s been cooking,” Doucette added.
The Relic pushed off the trunk of his car and got serious.
“Female white, fifties, looks like blunt-force trauma and facial lacerations,” he said. “Somebody worked her over pretty good. Domicile in disarray. Could’ve been a break-in.”
“Sexual assault?” Ballard asked.
“Her nightgown’s pulled up. She’s exposed.”
“Okay, I’m going in. Which one of you brave lads wants to walk me through it?”
There were no immediate volunteers.
“Deuce, you’ve got the high number,” Dvorek said.
“Shit,” said Doucette.
Doucette was the newest officer of the three so he had the highest serial number. He pulled a blue bandanna up from around his neck and over his mouth and nose.
“You look like a fucking Crip,” Anzelone said.
“Why, because I’m black?” Doucette asked.
“Because you’re wearing a fucking blue bandanna,” Anzelone said. “If it was red, I’d say you look like a fucking Blood.”
“Just show her,” Dvorek said. “I really don’t want to be here all night.”
Doucette broke off the banter and headed toward the open door of the house. Ballard followed.
“How’d we get this thing so late, anyway?” she asked.
“Next-door neighbor got a call from the victim’s niece back in New York,” Doucette said. “Neighbor has a key and the niece asked him to check because the lady wasn’t responding to social media or cell calls for a few days. The neighbor opens the door, gets hit with the funk, and calls us.”
“At one o’clock in the morning?”
“No, much earlier. But all of PM watch was tied up last night on a caper with a four-five-nine suspect and on a perimeter around Park La Brea till end of watch. Nobody got up here and then it got passed on to us at roll call. We came by as soon as we could.”
Ballard nodded. The perimeter around a robbery suspect sounded suspect to her. More likely, she thought, the buck had been passed shift to shift because nobody wants to work a possible body case that has been cooking in a closed house.
“Where’s the neighbor now?” Ballard asked.
“Back home,” Doucette said. “Probably taking a shower and sticking VapoRub up his nose. He’s never going to be the same again.”
“We gotta get his prints to exclude him, even if he says he didn’t go in.”
“Roger that. I’ll get the print car up here.”
Snapping on her latex gloves, Ballard followed Doucette over the threshold and into the house. The breathing mask was almost useless. The putrid odor of death hit her strongly, even though she was breathing through her mouth.
Doucette was tall and broad-shouldered. Ballard could see nothing until she was well into the house and had stepped around him. The house was cantilevered out over the hillside, making the view through the floor-to-ceiling glass wall a stunning sheath of twinkling light. Even at this hour the city seemed alive and pulsing with grand possibilities.
“Was it dark in here when you came in?” Ballard asked.
“Nothing was on when we got here,” said Doucette.
Ballard noted the answer. No lights on could mean that the intrusion occurred during the daytime or late at night, after the homeowner had gone to bed. She knew that most home invasions were daytime capers.
Doucette, who was also wearing gloves, hit a wall switch by the door and turned on a line of ceiling lamps. The interior was an open-loft design, taking advantage of the panorama from any spot in the living room, dining room or kitchen. The staggering view was counterbalanced on the rear wall by three large paintings that were part of a series depicting a woman’s red lips.
Ballard noticed broken glass on the floor near the kitchen island but saw no shattered windows.
“Any sign of a break-in?” she asked.
“Not that we saw,” Doucette said. “There’s broken shit all over the place but no broken windows, no obvious point of entry that we found.”
“The body’s down here.”
He moved into a hallway off the living room and held his hand over the bandanna and his mouth as a second line of protection against the intensifying odor.
Ballard followed. The house was a single-level contemporary. She guessed it was built in the fifties, when one level was enough. Nowadays anything going up in the hills was multilevel and to the maximum extent of code.
They passed open doorways to a bedroom and a bathroom, then entered a master bedroom that was in disarray with a lamp lying on the floor, its shade dented and bulb shattered. Clothes were strewn haphazardly over the bed, and a long-stemmed glass that had contained what looked like red wine was snapped in two on the white rug, its contents spread in a splash stain.
“Here you go,” Doucette said.
He pointed through the open door of the bathroom and then stepped back to allow Ballard in first.
Ballard stood in the doorway but did not enter the bathroom. The victim was faceup on the floor. She was a large woman with her arms and legs spread wide. Her eyes were open, her lower lip torn, and her upper right cheek gashed, exposing grayish pink tissue. A halo of dried blood from an unseen scalp wound surrounded her head on the white tile squares.
A flannel nightgown with hummingbirds on it was pulled up over the hips and bunched above the abdomen and around the breasts. Her feet were bare and three feet apart. There was no visible bruising or injury to the external genitalia.
Ballard could see herself in a floor-to-ceiling mirror on the opposite wall of the room. She squatted down in the doorway and kept her hands on her thighs. She studied the tiled floor for footprints, blood and other evidence. Besides the halo that had pooled and dried around the dead woman’s head, an intermittent ribbon of small blood smears was noticeable on the floor between the body and the bedroom.
“Deuce, go close the front door,” she said.
“Uh, okay,” Doucette said. “Any reason?”
“Just do it. Then check the kitchen.”
“A water bowl on the floor. Go.”
Doucette left and Ballard heard his heavy footsteps move back up the hallway. She stood and entered the bathroom, stepping gingerly and close to the wall until she came up close on the body, and squatted again. She leaned down, putting a gloved hand on the tiles for balance, in an attempt to see the scalp wound. The dead woman’s dark brown hair was too thick and curly for her to locate it.
Ballard looked around the room. The bathtub was surrounded by a marble sill holding multiple jars of bath salts and candles burned down to nothing. There was a folded towel on the sill as well. Ballard shifted so she could see into the tub. It was empty but the drain stopper was down. It was the kind with a rubber lip that creates a seal. Ballard reached over, turned on the cold water for a few seconds and then turned it off.
She stood up and stepped over to the edge of the tub. She had put in enough water to surround the drain. She waited and watched.
“There’s a water bowl.”
Ballard turned. Doucette was back.
“Did you close the front door?” she asked.
“It’s closed,” Doucette said.
“Okay, look around. I think it’s a cat. Something small. You’ll have to call animal control.”
Ballard pointed down at the dead woman.
“An animal did that. A hungry one. They start with the soft tissue.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
Ballard looked back into the tub. Half of the water she had put in was gone. The drain’s rubber seal had a slow leak.
“There’s no bleeding with the facial injuries,” she said. “That happened postmortem. The wound on the back of the head is what killed her.”
“Someone came up and cracked her skull from behind,” he said.
“No,” Ballard said. “It’s an accidental death.”
“How?” Doucette asked.
Ballard pointed to the array of items on the bathtub sill.
“Based on decomp, I’d say it happened three nights ago,” she said. “She turns out the lights in the house to get ready for bed. Probably that lamp on the floor in the bedroom was the one she left on. She comes in here, fills the tub, lights her candles, gets her towel ready. The hot water steams the tiles and she slips, maybe when she remembered she left her glass of wine on the bed table. Or when she started pulling up the nightgown so she could get in the tub.”
“What about the lamp and the spilled wine?” Doucette asked.
“So, you just stood here and figured all this out?”
Ballard ignored the question.
“She was carrying a lot of weight,” she said. “Maybe a sudden redirection as she was getting undressed—‘Oh, I forgot my wine’—causes her to slip and she cracks her skull on the lip of the tub. She’s dead, the candles burn out, the water slowly leaks down the drain.”
This explanation only brought silence from Doucette. Ballard looked down at the dead woman’s ravaged face.
“The second day or so, the cat got hungry,” Ballard concluded. “It went a little nuts, then it found her.”
“Jesus,” Doucette said.
“Get your partner in here, Deuce. Find the cat.”
“But wait a minute. If she was about to take a bath, why’s she already in a nightgown? You put the nightgown on after the bath, don’t you?”
Ballard gestured to the mirror.
“She was obese,” Ballard said. “She probably didn’t like looking at herself naked in the mirror. So she comes home from work or her day, gets into nightclothes, gets her wine, maybe watches TV, who knows? She stays dressed until it’s time to get in the tub.”
Ballard turned to go past Doucette and step out of the room.
“Find the cat,” she said.
By three a.m. Ballard had cleared the scene of the death investigation and was back at Hollywood Division, working in a cubicle in the detective bureau. That vast room, which housed the workstations of forty-eight detectives by day, was deserted after midnight and Ballard always had her pick of the place. She chose a desk in the far corner, away from spillover noise and radio chatter from the watch commander’s office down the front hallway. At five-seven she could sit down and disappear behind the computer screen and the half walls of the workstation like a soldier in a foxhole. She could focus and get her report writing done.
The report on the residential break-in that she had rolled on earlier in the night was completed first and now she was ready to type up the death report on the bathtub case. She would classify the death as undetermined pending autopsy. She had covered her bases, called in a crime scene photographer and documented everything, including the cat. She knew a determination of accidental death might be second-guessed by the victim’s family and maybe even her superiors. She was confident, however, that the autopsy would find no indications of foul play and the death would eventually be ruled accidental.
She was working alone. Her partner, John Jenkins, was on bereavement leave. There were no replacements for detectives who worked the late show. Ballard was halfway through the first night of at least a week going solo. It all depended on when Jenkins came back. His wife had endured a long, painful death from cancer. It had torn him up and Ballard told him to take all the time he needed.
She opened her notebook to the page containing the details she had written about the second investigation and then opened up a blank incident report on her screen. Before beginning she dipped her chin and pulled the collar of her blouse up to her nose. She thought she picked up the slight odor of decomposition and death but couldn’t be sure if it had permeated her clothes or was simply an olfactory memory. Still, it meant that her plan to wear the suit again that week was not going to work out. It was going to the cleaners.
While her head was down, she heard the metal-on-metal bang of a file drawer being closed. She looked up over the workstation divider to the far side of the bureau, where four-drawer file cabinets ran the length of the room. Every pair of detectives was assigned a four-drawer stack for storage.
But the man Ballard saw now opening another drawer to check its contents was not a detective she recognized, and she knew them all from once-a-month squad meetings that drew her to the station during daylight hours. The man who was seemingly checking the cabinets at random had gray hair and a mustache. Ballard instinctively knew he didn’t belong. She scanned the entire squad room to see if anybody else was there. The rest of the place was deserted.
The man opened and closed yet another drawer. Ballard used the sound to cover getting up from her chair. She squatted down and, with the row of work cubicles as a blind, moved to the central aisle, which would allow her to come up behind the intruder without being seen.
She had left her suit jacket in the cardboard box in the trunk of her car. This gave her unfettered access to the Glock holstered on her hip. She put her hand on the grip of the weapon and came to a stop ten feet behind the man.
“Hey, what’s up?” she asked.
The man froze. He slowly raised his hands out of the open drawer he was looking through and held them so she could see them.
“That’s good,” Ballard said. “Now, you mind telling me who you are and what you’re doing?”
“Name’s Bosch,” he said. “I came in to see somebody.”
“What, somebody hiding in the files?”
“No, I used to work here. I know Money up front. He told me I could wait in the break room while they called the guy in. I sort of started wandering. My bad.”
Ballard came down from high alert and took her hand off her gun. She recognized the name Bosch, and the fact that he knew the watch commander’s nickname gave her some ease as well. But she was still suspicious.
“You kept a key to your old cabinet?” she asked.
“No,” Bosch said. “It was unlocked.”
Ballard could see the push-in lock at the top of the cabinet was indeed extended in unlocked position. Most detectives kept their files locked.
“You got some ID?” she asked.
“Sure,” Bosch said. “But just so you know, I’m a police officer. I have a gun on my left hip and you’re going to see it when I reach back for my ID. Okay?”
Ballard brought her hand back up to her hip.
“Thanks for the heads-up,” she said. “Tell you what, forget the ID for now. Why don’t we secure the weapon first? Then we’ll—”
“There you are, Harry.”
Ballard looked to her right and saw Lieutenant Munroe, the watch commander, entering the squad room. Munroe was a thin man who still walked with his hands up near his belt like a street cop, even though he rarely left the confines of the station. He had modified the belt so it only carried his gun, which was required. All of the other bulky equipment was left in a drawer of his desk. Munroe wasn’t as old as Bosch but he had the mustache that seemed to be standard with cops that came on in the 70s and 80s.
He saw Ballard and read her stance.
“Ballard, what’s going on?” he asked.
“He came in here and was going through the files,” Ballard said. “I didn’t know who he was.”
“You can stand down,” Munroe said. “He’s good people—used to work homicide here. Back when we had a homicide table.”
Munroe turned his gaze to Bosch.
“Harry, what the hell were you doing?” he asked.
“Just checking my old drawers,” he said. “Sort of got tired of waiting.”
“Well, Dvorek’s in the house and waiting in the report room,” Munroe said. “And I need you to talk to him now. I don’t like taking him off the street. He’s one of my best guys and I want him back out there.”
“Got it,” Bosch said.
Bosch followed Munroe to the front hallway, which led to the watch office and the report-writing room, where Dvorek was waiting. Bosch looked back at Ballard as he went and nodded. Ballard just watched him go.
After they were gone, Ballard stepped over to the file drawer Bosch had last been looking in. There was a business card taped to it. That’s what everybody did to mark their drawers.
Detective Cesar Rivera
Hollywood Sex Crimes Unit
She checked the contents. It was only half full and the folders had fallen forward, probably while Bosch was leafing through them. She pushed them back up so they were standing and looked at what Rivera had written on the tabs. They were mostly victim names and case numbers. Others were marked with the main streets in Hollywood Division, probably containing miscellaneous reports of suspicious activities or persons.
She closed the drawer and checked the two above it, remembering that she had initially heard Bosch open at least three of them.
These were like the first, containing case folders primarily listed by victim name, specific sex crime, and case number. At the front of the top drawer she noticed a paper clip that had been bent and twisted. She studied the push-button lock on the top corner of the cabinet. It was a basic model and she knew it could easily have been picked with a paper clip. Security of the records themselves was not a priority because they were contained in a high-security police station.
Ballard closed the drawers, pushed in the lock and went back to the desk she had been using. She remained intrigued by Bosch’s middle-of-the-night visit. She knew he had used the paper clip to unlock the file cabinet and that indicated he had more than a casual interest in the contents of its drawers. His nostalgic story about checking out his old files had been a lie.
She picked up the coffee cup on the desk and walked down the hall to the first-floor break room to replenish it. The room was empty as usual. She refilled and carried the cup down the hallway to the watch office. Lieutenant Munroe was at his desk, looking at a deployment screen that showed a map of the division and the GPS markers for the patrol units out there. He didn’t hear Ballard until she came up behind him.
“Quiet?” she asked.
“For the moment,” Munroe said.
Ballard pointed to a cluster of three GPS locators in the same spot.
“What’s happening there?”
“That’s the Mariscos Reyes truck. I’ve got three units code seven there.”
It was a lunch break at a food truck at Sunset and Western. It made Ballard realize she had not taken a food break and was getting hungry. She wasn’t sure she wanted seafood, however.
“So, what did Bosch want?”
“He wanted to talk to the Relic about a body he found nine years ago. I take it Bosch is looking into it.”
“He said he’s still a cop. Not for us, right?”
“Nah, he’s a reserve up in the Valley for San Fernando PD.”
“What’s San Fernando got to do with a murder down here?”
“I don’t know, Ballard. You shoulda asked him while he was here. He’s gone now.”
“That was quick.”
“Because the Relic couldn’t remember shit.”
“Is Dvorek back out there?”
Munroe pointed to the three-car cluster on the screen.
“He’s back out, but code seven at the moment.”
“I was thinking about going over there, getting a couple shrimp tacos. You want me to bring you back something?”
“No, I’m good. Take a rover with you.”
On the way back to the D bureau she stopped in the break room and dumped the coffee in the sink and rinsed out the cup. She then pulled a rover out of the charging rack in the bureau and headed out the back door of the station to her city car. The mid-watch chill had set in and she got her suit jacket out of the trunk and put it on before driving out of the lot.
The Relic was still parked at the food truck when Ballard arrived. As a sergeant, Dvorek rode in a solo car, so he had a tendency to hang with other officers on break for the company.
“Sally Ride,” he said, when he noticed Ballard studying the chalkboard menu.
“What’s up, Sarge?” she said.
“Halfway through another night in paradise.”
Ballard ordered one shrimp taco and doused it liberally with one of the hot sauces from the condiment table. She took it over to Dvorek’s black-and-white, where he was leaning against the front fender and finishing his own meal. Two other patrol officers were eating on the hood of their car, parked in front of his.
Ballard leaned against the fender next to him.
“Whatcha get?” Dvorek asked.
“Shrimp,” Ballard said. “I only order off the blackboard. Means it’s fresh, right? They don’t know what they’ll have until they buy it at the docks.”
“If you think so.”
“I need to think so.”
She took her first bite. It was good and there was no fishy taste.
“Not bad,” she said.
“I had the fish special,” Dvorek said. “It’s probably going to take me off the street as soon as it gets down into the lower track.”
“TMI, Sarge. But speaking of coming in off the street, what did that guy Bosch want with you?”
“You saw him?”
“I caught him snooping in the files in the D bureau.”
“Yeah, he’s kind of desperate. Looking for any angle on a case he’s working.”
“In Hollywood? I thought he worked for San Fernando PD these days.”
“He does. But this is a private thing he’s looking into. A girl who got killed here about nine years ago. I was the one who found the body, but damn if I could remember much that helped him.”
Ballard took another bite and started nodding. She asked the next question with her mouth full of shrimp and tortilla.
“Who was the girl?” she asked.
“A runaway. Name was Daisy. She was fifteen and putting it out on the street. Sad case. I used to see her on Hollywood up near Western. One night she got into the wrong car. I found her body in an alley off of Cahuenga. Came in on an anonymous call—I do remember that.”
“Was that her street name?”
“No, the real thing. Daisy Clayton.”
“Was Cesar Rivera working the sex table back then?”
“Cesar? I’m not sure. We’re talking nine years ago. He coulda been.”
“Well, did you remember Cesar having anything to do with the case? Bosch picked his file cabinet.”
“I found the body and called it in, Renée—that’s it,” he said. “I had no part in it after that. I remember they sent me down to the end of the alley to string tape and keep people out. I was just a slick sleeve.”
Uniformed cops got a hash mark on their sleeves for every five years of service. Nine years ago, the Relic was a near-rookie. Ballard nodded and asked her last question.
“Did Bosch ask you anything I didn’t just ask?”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t about her. He asked about Daisy’s boyfriend and whether I ever saw him on the street again after the murder.”
“Who was the boyfriend?”
“Just another runaway throwaway. I knew him by his graffiti handle: Addict. Bosch said his name was Adam something. I forget. But the answer was no, I never saw him after that. Guys like that come and go.”
“What was their relationship?”
“They ran together. You know, for protection. Girl like that, she needed a guy out there. Like a pimp. She worked the street, he watched out for her, and they split the profits. Except that night, he dropped the ball. Too bad for her.”
Ballard nodded. She guessed that Bosch wanted to talk to Adam/Addict as the person who would know the most about who Daisy Clayton knew and interacted with, and where she went on the last night of her life.
He could also have been a suspect.
“You know about Bosch, right?” Dvorek asked.
“Yeah,” Ballard said. “He worked in the division way back when.”
“You know the stars out on the front sidewalk?”
There were memorial stars on the sidewalk in front of Hollywood Station honoring officers from the division who were killed in the line of duty.
“Well, there’s one out there,” Dvorek said. “Lieutenant Harvey Pounds. The story on him was he was Bosch’s L-T when he worked here, and he got abducted and died of a heart attack when he was being tortured on a case Bosch was working.”
Ballard had never heard the story before.
“Anybody ever go down for it?” she asked.
“Depends on who you talk to,” Dvorek said. “It’s supposedly ‘cleared-other,’ but it’s another mystery in the big bad city. The word was that something Bosch did got the guy killed.”
“Cleared-other” was a designation for a case that was officially closed but without an arrest or prosecution. Usually because the suspect was dead or serving a life sentence for another crime, and it was not worth the time, expense and risk of going to trial on a case that would not result in additional punishment.
“Supposedly the file on it is sealed. High Jingo.”
“High Jingo” was LAPD-speak for when a case involved department politics. The kind of case where a career could be diverted by a wrong move.
The information on Bosch was interesting but not on point. Before Ballard could think of a question that would steer Dvorek back toward the Daisy Clayton case, his rover squawked and he took a call from the watch office. Ballard listened as Lieutenant Munroe dispatched him to a Beachwood Canyon address to supervise a team responding to a domestic dispute.
“Gotta go,” he said as he balled up the foil his tacos had come in. “Unless you want to ride along and back me up.”
It was said in jest, Ballard knew. The Relic didn’t need backup from the late show detective.
“I’ll see you back at the barn,” she said. “Unless that goes sideways and you need a detective.”
She hoped not. Domestics usually ended up being he-said-she-said deals in which she acted more as a referee than a detective. Even obvious physical injuries didn’t always tell the tale.
“Roger that,” Dvorek said.
Day watch detectives were all about traffic patterns. Most days the majority of daysiders got to the bureau before six a.m. so they could split by midafternoon, missing the traffic swell both coming and going. Ballard counted on this when she decided she was going to ask Cesar Rivera about the Daisy Clayton case. She spent the remainder of her shift waiting on his arrival by pulling up and studying the electronic records available on the nine-year-old murder.
The murder book, a blue binder full of printed reports and photos, was still the bible of a homicide investigation in the Los Angeles Police Department, but as the world turned digital, so did the department. Using her department password, Ballard was able to access most of the reports and photos from the case that had been scanned into the department’s digital archives. The only thing missing would be the handwritten notes detectives usually shoved into the back sleeve of the murder book.
Most importantly, she was able to view the chronological record, which was always the spine of the case, a narrative of all moves made by investigators assigned to it.
Ballard determined immediately that the murder was officially classified as a cold case and assigned to the Open-Unsolved Unit, which was part of the elite Robbery-Homicide Division working out of headquarters downtown. Ballard had once been assigned to the RHD and knew many of the detectives and associated players. Included in that number was her former lieutenant, who had pushed her up against a wall and tried to force himself on her in a bathroom at a squad Christmas party three years earlier. Her rejection of him and subsequent complaint and internal investigation was what landed her on the night shift at Hollywood Division. The complaint was determined to be unfounded because her own partner at the time did not back her up, even though he had witnessed the altercation. Department administrators decided that it would be for the good of all involved to separate Ballard and Lieutenant Robert Olivas. He stayed put in RHD and Ballard was moved out, the message to her clear. Olivas got by unscathed, while she went from an elite unit to a posting no one ever applied or volunteered for, a slot normally reserved for the department’s freaks and fuckups.
In recent months, the irony of this was not lost on Ballard as the country and the Hollywood entertainment industry in particular were awash in scandals involving sexual harassment and worse. The chief of police even instituted a task force to handle all the claims pouring in from the movie industry, many of them decades old. Of course, the chief’s task force was composed of RHD detectives, and Olivas was one of its supervisors.
The history with Olivas was not far from Ballard’s mind as her curiosity about Bosch and the case he was working sent her into the department’s digital channels. Technically, she was not breaking any rules by pulling up the old reports, but the case had been moved from Hollywood when its homicide team was disbanded and placed with the Open-Unsolved Unit, which was part of the Robbery-Homicide Division and Olivas’s domain. Ballard knew that her moves in the department database would leave a digital trail that Olivas might become aware of. If that happened he would have the opportunity to be spiteful and initiate an internal investigation into what she was doing with an RHD case.
The threat was there but it wasn’t enough to stop her. She hadn’t been afraid of Olivas when he followed her into the bathroom at the Christmas party three years ago; she had shoved him back and he’d fallen into a bathtub. She wasn’t afraid of him now.
While the chronological record was the most important part of a case review, Ballard started with a quick survey of the photos. She wanted to see Daisy Clayton in life and in death.
The photo packet included crime scene and autopsy photos but also a posed shot of the girl in what looked to Ballard to be a private school uniform—a white blouse with a monogram over the left breast that said SSA. She was smiling at the camera, her blonde hair mid-length, make up covering acne on her cheeks, a distant look already in her eyes. The back of the photo had been scanned as well and it read “Grade 7, St. Stanislaus Academy, Modesto.”
Ballard decided to leave the crime scene photos for later and went to the chrono, first scrolling to see the latest moves on the case. She quickly learned that outside of annual due diligence checks, the investigation had largely been dormant for eight years, until it was assigned six months earlier to a cold case detective named Lucia Soto. Ballard didn’t know Soto but she knew of her. She was the youngest female detective ever assigned to RHD, beating the record Ballard had previously held by being eight months younger when appointed.
“Lucky Lucy,” Ballard said out loud.
Ballard also knew that Soto was currently assigned to the Hollywood Sexual Harassment Task Force because the powers that be in the department—mostly white men—knew that putting as many women on the task force as possible was a prudent move. Soto, who already had a media profile and nickname because of an act of heroism that led to her RHD posting, was often used as the face of the task force for press conferences and other media interactions.
This knowledge now gave Ballard pause. She put together a quick chronology. Six months earlier, Soto either requested or was assigned to the unsolved Daisy Clayton case. Shortly afterward, she was reassigned from the Open-Unsolved Unit to the harassment task force. Then Bosch shows up at Hollywood Station to ask questions about the case and attempt to get a look at the files of a sex crimes detective.
There was a connection there that Ballard didn’t yet have. She quickly found it and started to understand things better when she conducted a new search of the department database and called up all cases in which Bosch was listed as having been a lead investigator. She zeroed in on the last case he handled before leaving the LAPD. It was a multiple-victim murder involving an arson of an apartment building in which several victims, including children, died of smoke inhalation. On several of the reports associated with the case, Bosch’s partner was listed as Lucia Soto.
Ballard now had the connection—Soto took the Clayton case on and then somehow drew her former partner Bosch into it, even though he was no longer with the department. But Ballard didn’t have the reason, meaning there was no explanation as to why Soto would go outside the department for help with the investigation, especially when she was moved out of Open-Unsolved for the task force.
Unable to answer that question for the moment, Ballard went back to the case files and started reviewing the investigation from the start. Daisy Clayton was deemed a chronic runaway who repeatedly left her own home as well as the temporary group homes and shelters she was placed in by the Department of Children and Family Services. Each time she ran, she ended up on the streets of Hollywood, joining other runaways in homeless camps and squats in abandoned structures. She abused alcohol and drugs and sold herself on the streets.
The first record of a police interaction with Daisy was sixteen months before her death. It was followed by several more arrests for drugs, loitering, and solicitation for prostitution. Because of her age, the early arrests only resulted in her being returned to her single mother, Elizabeth, or to DCF authorities. But nothing seemed to stop the cycle of her returning to the streets and of being under the influence of Adam Sands, a nineteen-year-old former runaway with his own history of drugs and crime.
Sands was interviewed at length by the original investigators on the case and was eliminated as a potential suspect when his alibi was confirmed: he was being held in the Hollywood Division jail at the time of Daisy Clayton’s murder.
Cleared as a suspect, Sands was questioned extensively about the victim’s routines and relationships. He claimed to have no information on who she had met with on the night of her murder. He revealed that her routine was to loiter near a shopping plaza on Hollywood Boulevard near Western Avenue that included a mini-market and a liquor store. She would solicit men as they were leaving the stores and then have sex with them in their cars after they drove into one of the many nearby alleys for privacy. Sands said he often stood lookout for her during the transactions but on the night in question he had been grabbed by police on a warrant for not appearing in court on a misdemeanor drug charge.
Daisy was left on her own at the shopping plaza and her body was found the next night in one of the alleys she used for her tricks. The body was found nude and had been cleaned with bleach. None of the victim’s clothes were ever found. Detectives determined that as many as twenty hours had passed between the time she was last seen at the shopping plaza soliciting johns and when police received an anonymous call about a body being seen in a Dumpster in an alley off Cahuenga and Officer Dvorek was dispatched to roll on the call. The missing hours were never accounted for but it was clear from the bleaching of the body that Daisy had been taken somewhere and then used and murdered, and her body was carefully cleaned of any evidence that might lead to her killer.
The one clue that the original detectives puzzled over throughout the investigation was a bruise on the body that they were convinced was a mark left by the killer. It was a circle two inches in diameter on the upper right hip. Within the circle was a crossword with the letters A-S-P arranged horizontally and vertically with the S in common.
A S P
The letters of the crossword were backwards on the victim’s body, indicating that they read correctly on the device or tool used to make the mark. The circle around the crossword appeared to be a snake eating itself but the blurring of the bruising in the tissue made this impossible to confirm.
Many hours of investigative work were expended on the crossword’s meaning but no definitive conclusion was reached. The case was originally investigated by two homicide detectives assigned to the Hollywood Division and then reassigned to Olympic Division when the regional homicide teams were consolidated and Hollywood lost its fabled murder unit. The investigators’ names were King and Carswell, and Ballard knew neither of them.
Time of death was established during the autopsy at ten hours after the victim was last seen and ten hours before the body was found.
The coroner’s report listed the cause of death as manual strangulation. It further refined this conclusion by stating that marks left on the victim’s neck by the killer’s hands indicated that she was strangled from behind, possibly while being sexually assaulted. Tissue damage in both the vagina and anus was listed as both pre- and postmortem. The victim’s fingernails were removed postmortem, a move viewed as an attempt by the killer to make sure no biological evidence was left behind.
The body also showed postmortem abrasions and scratches that investigators believed occurred during an effort to clean the victim with a stiff brush and bleach, which was found in all orifices as well as the mouth, throat and ear canals. This led the medical examiner to conclude that the corpse had been submerged in bleach during this cleaning process.
This finding coupled with the time of death led investigators to conclude that Daisy had been taken off the street and to a hotel room or other location by the killer where a bleach bath could be prepared for cleaning the body.
“He’s a planner,” Ballard said out loud.
The conclusions about the bleach led the original investigators to spend much of their time during the initial days of the investigation on a thorough canvass of every motel and hotel in the Hollywood area that offered direct access to rooms off the parking lot. The school photo of Daisy was shown to employees on all shifts, housekeepers were quizzed about any reports of a strong odor of bleach, trash bins were searched for bleach containers. Nothing came of the effort. The location of the murder was never determined, and without a crime scene, the case was handicapped from the start. Six months into the investigation the case went cold with no leads and no suspects.
Ballard finally came back to the crime scene photos and this time carefully studied them despite their grim nature. The victim’s age, the marks on her body and neck showing the overwhelming strength of her killer, her final naked repose on a spread of trash in a commercial trash bin…it all drew a sense of horror in Ballard, a sad empathy for this girl and what she had been through. Ballard had never been a detective who could leave the work in a drawer at the end of shift. She carried it with her and it was her empathy that fueled her.
Before being assigned to the night beat, Ballard had been working toward a specialization in sexually motivated homicide at RHD. Her then-partner, Ken Chastain, was one of the premier investigators of sex killings in the department. Both had taken classes from and been mentored by Detective David Lambkin, long considered the department expert, until he pulled the pin and left the city for the Pacific Northwest.
That pursuit was largely sidelined by her transfer to the late show, but now as she reviewed the Clayton files, she saw a sexual predator hiding behind the words and reports, a predator unidentified for nine years now, and she felt a deep tug inside. It was the same pull that had first led her to thoughts of being a cop and a hunter of men who hurt women and left them like trash in the alley. She wanted in on whatever it was that Harry Bosch was doing.
Ballard was pulled out of these thoughts when she heard voices. She looked up from the screen and over the workstation wall. She saw two detectives taking off their suit jackets and draping them over their chairs, readying for a new day of work.
One of them was Cesar Rivera.
Ballard packed up her things and left her borrowed workstation. She first went into the print room to gather the reports she had fed into the communal printer after typing them up earlier. The detective squad lieutenant was old school and still liked hard-copy reports from her in the morning, even though she also filed them digitally. She separated the reports on the death investigation and the earlier burglary call, stapled them, and then walked them to the inbox on the desk of the lieutenant’s adjutant so they were ready for his arrival. She then sauntered over to the sex crimes section and came up behind Rivera as he was sitting at his station and preparing for the day by dumping an airline-size bottle of whiskey into a mug of coffee. She didn’t let on that she had seen this when she spoke.
Rivera was another mustache guy, his almost white against his brown skin. He matched this with flowing white hair that was a little long by LAPD standards but acceptable on an old detective. He jolted a bit in his seat, afraid his morning routine had been seen. He swiveled his chair around but relaxed when he saw it was Ballard. He knew she would not make any waves.
“Renée,” he said. “What’s up, girl? You got something for me?”
“No, nothing,” she said. “Quiet night.”
She came around and leaned an elbow on the cubicle partition.
“So what’s up?” Rivera asked.
“About to leave,” Ballard said. “I was wondering, though. You know a guy used to work out of here named Harry Bosch? He worked homicide.”
She pointed to the corner of the room where the homicide squad was once located. It was now used by an anti-gang team.
“Before my time,” Rivera said. “I mean, I know who he is—everybody does, I think. But no, I never dealt with the guy. Why?”
“He was in the station this morning,” Ballard said.
“You mean on graveyard?”
“Yeah, he said he came in to talk to Dvorek about an old homicide. But I found him looking through your stack.”
She pointed toward the long row of file cabinets running along the wall. Rivera shook his head in confusion.
“My stack?” Rivera said. “What the fuck?”
“How long have you been at Hollywood Division, Cesar?” Ballard asked.
“Seven years, what’s that got to—”
“You know the name Daisy Clayton? She was murdered in oh-nine. It’s an open case, classified as sexually motivated.”
Rivera shook his head.
“That was before my time here,” he said. “I was at Hollenbeck then.”
He got up and walked over to the row of file cabinets and pulled a set of keys out of his pocket to open the top drawer of his four-drawer stack.
“Locked now,” he said. “Was locked when I left last night.”
“I locked it after he left,” Ballard said.
She said nothing about finding the bent paper clip in the drawer.
“Isn’t Bosch retired?” Rivera said. “How’d he get in here? He keep his nine-nine-nine when he split?”
Every officer was given what was called a 999 key, which unlocked the back door of every station in the city. They were distributed as a backup to the electronic ID keys, which were more prone to malfunction and failure during power outages. The city was not scrupulous about collecting them when officers retired.
“Maybe, but he told me Lieutenant Munroe let him in so he could wait for Dvorek to come in off patrol,” Ballard said. “He wandered, and that’s when I saw him looking in your files. I was working over in the corner and he didn’t see me.”
“He’s the one who mentioned the Daisy case?”
“Daisy Clayton. No, actually Dvorek said that’s what Bosch wanted to talk to him about. Dvorek was first officer on scene with her.”
“Was it Bosch’s case back then?”
“No. It was worked by King and Carswell initially. Now it’s assigned to Open-Unsolved downtown.”
Rivera walked back to his desk but stayed standing while he grabbed his coffee cup and took a long drink out of it. He then abruptly pulled the cup away from his mouth.
“Shit, I know what he was doing,” he said.
“What?” Ballard asked.
There was a sense of urgency in her voice.
“I got here just as they were reorganizing and moving homicide over to West Bureau,” Rivera said. “The sex table was expanding and they brought me in. Me and Sandoval were add-ons, not replacements. We both came from Hollenbeck, see.”
“Okay,” Ballard said.
“So the lieutenant assigned me that cabinet and gave me the key. But when I opened the top drawer to put stuff in there, it was full. All four drawers were full. Same with Sandoval—his four were filled up as well.”
“Filled with what? You mean with files?”
“No, every drawer was filled with shake cards. Stacks and stacks of them crammed in there. The homicide guys and the other detectives had decided to keep the old cards after the department went digital. They stuck them in the file drawers for safekeeping.”
Rivera was talking about what were officially called field interview cards. They were 3 x 5 cards that were filled out by officers while they were on patrol and encountered people on the streets. The front of each card was a form with specific identifiers regarding the person interviewed, such as name, date of birth, address, gang affiliation, tattoos, and known associates. The back of each card was blank and that was where the officer could write any ancillary information about the subject.
Officers carried stacks of blank FI cards on their person or in their patrol cars—Ballard had always kept hers under the sun visor in her car when she had worked patrol in Pacific Division. At the end of shift, the cards were turned in to the divisional watch commander and the information on them was entered by clerical staff into a searchable database. Should a name that was run through the database produce a match, the inquiring officer or detective would have a ready set of facts, addresses, and known associates to start with.
The American Civil Liberties Union had long protested the department’s use of the cards and the collection of information from citizens who had not committed crimes, calling the practice unlawful search and seizure and routinely referring to the Q&As as shakedowns. The department had fended off all legal attempts to stop the practice, and many of the rank and file referred to the 3 x 5 cards as shake cards, a not-so-subtle dig at the ACLU.
“Why were they keeping them?” Ballard asked. “Everything was put into the database and would be easier to find there.”
“I don’t know,” Rivera said. “They didn’t do it that way at Hollenbeck.”
“So, what did you do, clear them out?”
“Yeah, me and Sandy emptied the drawers.”
“You threw them all out?”
“No, if I’ve learned anything in this department, it’s not to be the guy who fucks up. We boxed them and took them to storage. Let it be somebody else’s problem.”
“Across the lot.”
Ballard nodded. She knew he meant the structure at the south end of the station’s parking lot. It was a single-level building that had once been a city utilities office but had been turned over to the station when more space was needed. The building was largely unused now. A gym for officers’ use and a padded martial arts studio had been set up in two of the larger rooms, but the smaller offices were empty or used for non-evidentiary storage.
“So, this was seven years ago?” she asked.
“More or less,” Rivera said. “We didn’t move it all at once. I cleared one drawer out and when it got filled and I had to go down to the next, I’d clear that one. It went like that. Took about a year.”
“So, what makes you think that Bosch was looking for shake cards last night?”
“There would have been shake cards in there from the time of the murder you’re talking about, right?”
“But the info on the shake cards is in the database.”
“Supposedly. But what do you put in the search window? See what I mean? There’s a flaw. If he wanted to see who was hanging around Hollywood at the time of the murder, how do you search the database for that?”
Ballard nodded in agreement but knew that there were many ways to pull up info on field interviews in the database by geography and time frame. She thought Rivera was wrong about that but probably right about Bosch. He was an old-school detective. He wanted to look through the shakes to see who the street cops in Hollywood were talking to at the time of the Clayton murder.
“Well,” she said. “I’m out of here. Have a good one. Stay safe.”
“Yeah, you too, Ballard,” Rivera said.
Ballard left the detective bureau and went up to the women’s locker room on the second floor. She changed out of her suit and into her sweats. Her plan was to head out to Venice, drop off laundry, pick up her dog at the overnight kennel, and then carry her tent and a paddleboard out to the beach. In the afternoon, after she had rested and considered her approach, she’d deal with Bosch.
The morning sun blistered her eyes as she crossed the parking lot behind the station. She popped the locks on her van and threw her crumpled suit onto the passenger seat. She then saw the old utilities building at the south end of the lot and changed her mind about leaving right away.
She used her card key to enter the building and found a couple other denizens of the late show working out before heading home after the morning rush hour. She threw a mock salute at them and went down a hallway that led to former city offices now used for storage. The first room she checked contained items recovered in one of her own cases. The year before, she had taken down a burglar who had filled a motel room with property from the homes he broke into or bought with the money and credit cards he had stolen. Now a year later, the case had been adjudicated and much of the property had still not been claimed. It had been returned to Hollywood Station for when the division organized an annual open house for victims as a last chance for them to claim their property.
The next room down was stacked with cardboard boxes containing old case files that for various reasons had to be kept. Ballard looked around here and moved several boxes in order to get to others. Soon enough, she opened a dusty box that was filled with FI cards. She had hit paydirt.
Twenty minutes later she had culled twelve boxes of FI cards and lined them along the wall in the hallway. By individually sampling cards from each of the boxes she was able to determine that the cards spanned the years from 2006, when the digitizing initiative began, to 2010, when the homicide section was moved out of Hollywood Division.
Ballard estimated that each of the boxes held up to a thousand cards. It would take many hours to comb through them all thoroughly. She wondered if that was what Bosch was expecting to do, or if he was planning a more precise search for one card or one night in particular, perhaps the night Daisy Clayton was taken off the street.
Ballard wouldn’t know the answer until she asked Bosch.
She left a note on the row of boxes in the hallway, saying that they were on hold for her. She returned to the parking lot and got into her van after checking the straps holding her boards to the roof racks. Shortly after she had been assigned to Hollywood Division and word leaked that she was involved in an internal harassment investigation, there were some in the station who attempted to retaliate against her. Sometimes it was basic bullying, sometimes it went deeper. One morning at the end of her shift, when she stopped her van at the station lot’s electric gate, her paddleboard slid forward off the roof and crashed against the gate, splintering the nose’s fiberglass. She repaired the board herself and started checking the rack straps every morning after her shift.
She took La Brea down to the 10 freeway and headed west toward the beach. She waited until a few minutes after eight o’clock to call the number for RHD that she still had programmed in her phone. A clerk answered and Ballard asked for Lucy Soto. She said the name with a clipped familiarity that imparted the idea that this was a cop-to-cop call. The transfer was made without question.
“This is Detective Soto.”
“This is Detective Ballard, Hollywood Division.”
There was a pause before Soto responded.
“I know who you are,” she said. “How can I help you, Detective Ballard?”
Ballard was used to detectives she wasn’t personally acquainted with knowing about her. With female detectives, there was always an awkward moment. They either admired Ballard for her perseverance in the department or believed her actions had made their own jobs more difficult. Ballard always had to find out which it was, and Soto’s opener gave no hint as to which camp she was in. Her repeating Ballard’s name out loud might have been a move to let someone like a partner or supervisor on the task force know who she was talking to.
Not being able to read Soto yet, Ballard just pressed on.
“I work the late show here,” she said. “Some nights it keeps me running, some nights not so much. My L-T likes me to have a hobby case to kind of keep me busy.”
“I don’t understand,” Soto said. “What’s this have to do with me? I’m sort of in the middle of—”
“Yeah, I know you’re busy. You’re on the harassment task force. That’s why I’m calling. One of your cold cases—that you’re not working because of the task force—I was wondering if I could take a whack at it.”
“Daisy Clayton. Fifteen-year-old murdered up here in—”
“I know the case. What makes you so interested?”
“It was a big case here at the time. I heard some blue suiters talking about it, pulled up what I could on the box and got interested. It looked like with this task force thing you weren’t doing much with it at the moment.”
“And you want to give it a shot.”
“I make no promises but, yeah, I’d like to do some work on it. I would keep you in the loop. It’s still your case. I’d just do some street work.”
Ballard was on the freeway but not moving. Her weeding through the boxes in the storage room had pushed her into the heart of rush hour. She knew the morning breeze would also be in full effect on the coast. She’d be paddling against it and the chop it would kick up. She was missing her window.
“It’s nine years later,” Soto said. “I’m not sure the street’s going to produce anything. Especially on graveyard. You’ll be spinning your wheels.”
“Well, maybe,” Ballard said. “But they’re my wheels to spin. You okay with this or not?”
There was another long pause. Enough time for Ballard to move the van about five feet.
“There’s something you should know,” Soto said. “There’s somebody else looking into it. Somebody outside the department.”
“Oh, yeah?” Ballard said. “Who’s that?”
“My old partner. His name’s Harry Bosch. He’s retired now but he…he needs the work.”
“One of those, huh? Okay. Anything else I should know? Was this one of his cases?”
“No. But he knows the victim’s mother. He’s doing it for her.”
“Good to know.”
Ballard was now getting a better sense of the lay of the land. It was the true purpose of her call. Permission to work the case was the least of her concerns.
“If I come up with anything, I’ll feed it to you,” Ballard said. “And I’ll let you get back to the reckoning.”
Ballard thought she heard a muffled laugh.
“Hey, Ballard?” Soto then added quietly. “I said I knew who you were. I also know who Olivas is. I mean, I work with him. I want you to know I appreciate what you did and I know you paid a price. I just wanted to say that.”
Ballard nodded to herself.
“That’s good to know,” she said. “I’ll be in touch.”
From the San Fernando Courthouse it was only a block’s walk back to the old jail where Bosch did his file work. He covered the distance quickly, a spring in his step caused by the search warrant in his hand. Judge Atticus Finch Landry had read it in chambers and asked Bosch a few perfunctory questions before signing the approval page. Bosch now had the authority to execute the search and hopefully find the bullet that would lead to an arrest and the closing of another case.
He took the shortcut through the city’s Public Works yard to the back door of the old jail. He pulled the key to the padlock as he moved toward the former drunk tank, where the open-case files were kept on steel shelves. He found that he had left the lock open and silently chastised himself. It was a breach of his own as well as departmental protocol. The files were to be kept locked up at all times. And Bosch liked to keep the matters on his desk secure too, even during a forty-minute search-warrant run to the courthouse next door.
He moved behind his makeshift desk—and old wooden door set across two stacks of file boxes—and sat down. Immediately, he saw the twisted paper clip sitting on top of his closed laptop.
He stared at it. He had not put it there.
“You forgot that.”
Bosch looked up. The woman—the detective—from the night before at Hollywood Station was straddling the old bench that ran between the freestanding shelves full of case files. She had been out of his line of sight as he came into the cell. He looked over at the open door where the padlock dangled from its chain.
“Ballard, right?” he said. “Good to know I’m not going crazy. I thought I had locked up.”
“I let myself in,” Ballard said. “Lock picking one-oh-one.”
“It’s a good skill to have. Meantime, I’m kind of busy here. Just got a search warrant I need to figure out how to execute without my suspect finding out. What do you want, Detective Ballard?”
“I want in.”
“On Daisy Clayton.”
Bosch considered her for a moment. She was attractive, maybe mid-thirties, with brown hair cut at the shoulders and a slim, athletic build. She was wearing off-duty clothes. The night before, she had been in a sharp-cut suit that made her seem more formidable—a must in the LAPD, where Bosch knew female detectives were often treated like office secretaries.
Ballard also had a deep tan, which to Bosch was at odds with the idea of someone who worked the graveyard shift. But most of all he was impressed that it had been only twelve hours since she had surprised him at the file cabinets in the Hollywood detective bureau and she already appeared to have caught up to him and what he was doing.
“I talked to your old partner, Lucy,” Ballard said. “She gave me her blessing. It is a Hollywood Station case, after all.”
“Was—till RHD took it,” Bosch said. “They have standing now, not Hollywood.”
“And what’s your standing? You’re out of the LAPD. Doesn’t seem to be any link to the town of San Fernando that I could see in the book.”
In his capacity as an SFPD reserve officer for the past three years, Bosch had largely been working on a backlog of cold cases of all kinds—murders, rapes, assaults. But the work was part time.
“They give me a lot of freedom up here,” Bosch said. “I work these cases and I also work my own. Daisy Clayton’s one of my own. You could say I have a vested interest. That’s my standing.”
“And I have twelve boxes of shake cards at Hollywood Station,” Ballard said.
Bosch nodded. He was even more impressed. She had somehow figured out exactly what he had gone to Hollywood for. As he studied her, he decided it wasn’t all a tan. She had a mix of races in her skin. He guessed that she was probably half white, half Polynesian.
“I figure between the two of us, we could get through them in a couple nights,” Ballard said.
There was the offer. She wanted in and would give Bosch what he was looking for in trade.
“The shake cards are a long shot,” he said. “Truth is, I’ve run the string out on the case. I was hoping there might be something in the cards.”
“That’s surprising,” Ballard said. “I heard you’re the kind of guy who never lets the string run out.”
Bosch didn’t know what to say to that. He shrugged.
Ballard got up and walked toward him down the aisle between the shelves.
“Sometimes it’s slow, sometimes it isn’t,” she said. “I’m going to start looking through the cards tonight. Between calls. Anything in particular I should look for?”
Bosch paused but knew he needed to make a decision. Trust her or keep her on the outside.
“Vans,” he said. “Look for work vans, guys who carry chemicals maybe.”
“For transporting her,” she said.
“For the whole thing.”
“It said in the book the guy took her home or to a motel. Some place with a bathtub. For the bleaching.”
Bosch shook his head.
“No, he didn’t use a bathtub,” he said.
She stared at him, waiting, not asking the obvious question of how he knew.
“All right, come with me,” he finally said.
He got up and led her out of the cell and back to the door to the Public Works yard.
“You looked at the book and the photos, right?” he said.
“Yes,” she said. “Everything that was digitized.”
They walked into the yard, which was a large open-air square surrounded by walls. Along the back wall there were four bays delineated by tool racks and work benches where city equipment and vehicles were maintained and repaired. Bosch led Ballard into one of these.
“You saw the mark on the body?”
“Right. But they got the meaning of it wrong. The original detectives. They went down a spiral with it and it was all wrong.”
He went to a workbench and reached up to a shelf where there was a large translucent plastic tub with a blue snap on top. He brought it down and held it out to her.
“Twenty-five-gallon container,” Bosch said. “Daisy was five-two, a hundred and five pounds. Small. He put her in one of these, then put in the bleach as needed. He didn’t use a bathtub.”
Ballard studied the container. Bosch’s explanation was plausible but not conclusive.
“That’s a theory,” she said.
“No theory,” he said.
He put the container down on the floor so he could unsnap the top. He then lifted the tub up and angled it so she could see into it. He reached inside and pointed to a manufacturer’s seal stamped into the plastic at the bottom. It was a two-inch circle with the A-S-P reading horizontally and vertically in the center.
“A-S-P,” he said. “American Storage Products or American Soft Plastics. Same company, two names. The killer put her in one of these. He didn’t need a bathtub or a motel. One of these and a van.”
Ballard reached into the container and ran a finger over the manufacturer’s seal. Bosch knew she was drawing the same conclusion he had. The logo was stamped into the plastic on the underside of the tub, creating a ridged impression on the inside. If Daisy’s skin was pressed against the ridges, the logo would have left its mark.
Ballard pulled her arm out and looked up from the tub to Bosch.
“How’d you figure this out?” she asked.
“I thought like he did,” Bosch said.
“Let me guess, these are untraceable.”
“They make them in Gardena, ship them to retailers everywhere. They do some direct sales to commercial accounts but as far as individual sales go, forget it. You can get these at every Target and Walmart in the country.”
Bosch snapped the top back on the tub and was about to put it back up on the high shelf.
“Can I take it?” Ballard asked.
Bosch turned to her. He knew he could replace it and that she could easily get her own. He guessed it was a move to draw him further into a partnership. If he gave her something, then it meant they were working together.
He handed the tub over.
“It’s yours,” he said.
“Thank you,” she said.
She looked at the open gate to the Public Works yard.
“Okay, so I start tonight on the shakes,” she said.
“Where were they?” he asked.
“In storage,” Ballard said. “Nobody wanted to throw them out.”
“I figured. It was smart.”
“What were you going to do if you found them still in the file cabinets?”
“I don’t know. Probably ask Money if I could hang around and look through them.”
“Were you just going to look at cards from the day or week of the murder? The month maybe?”
“No, all of them. Whatever they still had. Who’s to say the guy who did this didn’t get F-I-ed a couple years before or a year after?”
“No stone uncovered. I get it.”
“That make you change your mind? It’ll be a lot of work.”
“Well, I’m gonna go. Might even go in early to get started.”
“Happy hunting. If I can come by, I will. But I have a search warrant to execute.”
“Otherwise, call me if you find something.”
He reached into a pocket and produced a business card with his cell number on it.
“Copy that,” she said.
Ballard walked off, holding the container in front of her by the indented grips on either side. As Bosch watched, she made a smooth U-turn and came back to him.
“Lucy Soto said you know Daisy’s mother,” she said. “Is that the standing you said you had?”
“I guess you could say that,” Bosch said. “When did you talk to Soto?”
“This morning. I called to get permission to pull files on the case. Where’s the mother—if I want to talk to her?”
“My house. You can talk to her anytime.”
“You live with her?”
“She’s staying with me. It’s temporary. Eighty-six-twenty Woodrow Wilson.”
“Okay. Got it.”
Ballard turned again and walked off. Bosch watched her go. She made no further U-turns.