Lost Light Excerpt
There is no end of things in the heart.
Somebody once told me that. She said it came from a poem she believed in. She understood it to mean that if you took something to heart, really brought it inside those red velvet folds, then it would always be there for you. No matter what happened, it would be there waiting. She said this could mean a person, a place, a dream. A mission. Anything sacred. She told me that it is all connected in those secret folds. Always. It is all part of the same and will always be there, carrying the same beat as your heart.
I am fifty-two-years old and I believe it. At night when I try to sleep but can’t, that is when I know it. It is when all the pathways seem to connect and I see the people I have loved and hated and helped and hurt. I see the hands that reach for me. I hear the beat and see and understand what I must do. I know my mission and I know there is no turning away or turning back. And it is in those moments that I know there is no end of things in the heart.
* * *
The last thing I expected was for Alexander Taylor to answer his own door. It belied everything I knew about Hollywood. I figured that a man with a billion dollar box office record answered the door for nobody. Instead, he would have a uniformed man posted fulltime at his front door. And that this doorman would only allow me entrance after carefully checking my identification and appointment. He would then hand me off to a butler or the first floor maid who would walk me the rest of the way in, shoes falling as silent as snow as we went.
But there was none of that at the mansion on Bel-Air Crest Road. The driveway gate had been left open. And after I parked in the front turnaround circle and knocked on the door it was the box office champion himself who opened it and beckoned me into a home with dimensions seemingly copied directly from the international terminal at LAX.
Taylor was a large man. Over six feet and 250 pounds. He carried it well, though, with a full head of curly brown hair and contrasting blue eyes. The hair on his chin added the high-brow look of an artist to this image, though art had very little to do with the field in which he toiled.
He was wearing a soft blue running suit that probably cost more than everything I was wearing. A white towel was wrapped tightly around his neck and stuffed into the collar. His cheeks were pink, his breathing heavy and labored. I had caught him in the middle of something and he seemed a little put out by it.
I had come to the door in my best suit, the ash gray single-breasted I had paid twelve-hundred dollars for three years before. I hadn’t worn it in over nine months and that morning I had to dust off the shoulders after taking it out of the closet. I was clean-shaven and I had purpose, the first I had felt since the suit had been put on that hanger so many months before.
“Come in,” Taylor said. “Everybody’s off today and I was just working out. Lucky the gym’s just down the hall or I probably wouldn’t have even heard you. It’s a big place.”
“Yes, that was lucky.”
He moved back into the house. He didn’t shake my hand and I remembered that from the time I first met him four years before. He led the way, leaving it to me to close the front door.
“Do you mind if I finish up on the bike while we talk?”
“No, that’s fine.”
We walked down a marble hallway, Taylor staying three steps ahead of me as if I were entourage. He was probably most comfortable that way and that was all right with me. It gave me time to look around.
The bank of windows on the left gave a view of the opulent grounds—a soccer field-size rectangle of rolling green that led to what I assumed was a guesthouse and or a pool house or both. There was a golf cart parked outside of the distant structure and I could see tracks back and forth across the manicured green leading to the main house. I had seen a lot in L.A., from the poorest ghettos to mountaintop mansions. But it was the first time inside the city limits I had ever seen a homestead so large that a golf cart was necessary to get from one side to the other.
Along the wall on the right were framed one-sheets from the many films Alexander Taylor had produced. I had seen a few of them when they made it to television and seen commercials for the rest. For the most part they were the kind of action films that neatly fit into the confines of a thirty-second commercial, no pressing need afterward to actually see the movie. None would ever be considered art by any meaning of the word. But in Hollywood they were far more important than art. They were profitable. And that was the bottom line of all bottom lines.
Taylor made a sweeping right and I followed him into the gym. The room brought new meaning to the idea of personal fitness to me. All manner of weight machines were lined against the walls. And at center was what appeared to be a full-size boxing ring. Taylor smoothly mounted a stationary bike, pushed a few buttons on the digital display in front of him and started pedaling.
Mounted side by side and high on the opposite wall were three, large flat screen televisions tuned to competing 24-hour news channels and the Bloomberg business report. The sound on the Bloomberg screen was up. Taylor lifted a remote control and muted it. Again, it was a courtesy I wasn’t expecting. When I had spoken to his secretary to make the appointment, she had made it sound like I would be lucky to get a few questions in while the great man worked his cell phone.
“No partner?” Taylor asked. “I thought you guys worked in pairs.”
“I like to work alone.”
I left it at that for the moment. I stood silently as Taylor got up to a rhythm on the cycle. He was in his late forties but he looked much younger. Maybe just surrounding himself with the equipment and machinery of health and youthfulness did the trick, whether you used them or not. Then again maybe it was the face peels and Botox injections.
“I can give you three miles,” he said, as he pulled the towel from around his neck and draped it over the handlebars.
“About twenty minutes.”
“That’ll be fine.”
I started pulling a notebook out of an inside coat pocket. It was a spiral notebook and the wire coil caught on the jacket’s lining. I felt like a jackass trying to get it loose and finally just jerked it free. I heard the lining tear but smiled away the embarrassment. Taylor cut me a break by looking away and up at one of the silent television screens.
I think it’s the little things I miss most about my former life. For more than twenty years I carried a small bound notebook in my coat pocket. Spiral notebooks weren’t allowed—a smart defense attorney could claim pages of exculpatory notes had been torn out. The bound notebooks took care of that problem and were easier on the jacket lining at the same time.
“I was glad to hear from you,” Taylor said. “It has always bothered me about Angie. To this day. She was a good kid, you know? And all this time, I thought you guys had just given up on it, that she didn’t matter.”
I nodded. I had been careful with my words when I had spoken to the secretary on the phone. While I had not lied to her I had been guilty of leading her and letting her assume things. It was a necessity. If I had told her I was an ex-cop working freelance on an old case then I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near the box office champ for the interview.
“Uh, before we start, I think there might have been a misunderstanding. I don’t know what your secretary told you, but I’m not a cop. Not anymore.”
Taylor coasted for a moment on the pedals but then quickly worked back into his rhythm. His face was red and he was sweating freely. He reached to a cup holder on the side of the digital control board and took out a pair of half-glasses and a slim card that had his production company’s logo at the top—a square with a maze-like design of curls inside it—and several handwritten notations below it. He put on the glasses and squinted anyway as he read the card.
“That’s not what I have here,” he said. “I’ve got LAPD Detective Harry Bosch at ten. Audrey wrote this. She’s been with me for eighteen years—since I was making straight to video dreck in the Valley. She is very good at what she does. And usually very accurate.”
“Well, that was me for a long time. But not for about a year. I retired. I might not have been very clear about that on the phone. I wouldn’t blame Audrey if I were you.”
He glanced down at me, tilting his head forward to see over the glasses.
“So then what can I do for you, detective—or I guess I should say, mister—Bosch? I’ve got two and a half miles and then we’re finished here.”
There was a bench press machine to Taylor’s right. I moved over and sat down. I took the pen out of my shirt pocket—no snags this time—and got ready to write.
“I don’t know if you remember me but we have spoken, Mr. Taylor. Four years ago when the body of Angella Benton was found in the vestibule of her apartment building, the case was assigned to me. You and I spoke in your office over at Eidolon. On the Archway lot. One of my partners, Kiz Rider, was with me.”
“I remember. The black woman—she had known Angie, she said. From the gym, I think it was. I remember that at the time you two instilled a lot of confidence in me. But then you disappeared. I never heard from—”
“We were taken off the case. We were from Hollywood Division. After the robbery and shooting a few days later the case was taken away. Robbery-Homicide Division took it.”
A low chime sounded from the stationary cycle and I thought maybe it meant Taylor had covered his first mile.
“I remember those guys,” Taylor said in a derisive voice. “Tweedle-dumb and Tweedle-dumber. They inspired nothing in me. I remember one was more interested in securing a position as technical advisor to my films then he was in the real case at hand. Whatever happened to them?”
“One’s dead and one’s retired.”
Dorsey and Cross. I had known them both. Taylor’s description aside, both had been capable investigators. You didn’t get to RHD by coasting. What I didn’t tell Taylor was that Jack Dorsey and Lawton Cross became known in detective services as the partners who had the ultimate bad luck. While working an investigation they drew several months after the Angella Benton case they stopped into a bar in Hollywood to grab lunch and a booster shot. They were sitting in a booth with their ham sandwiches and Bushmills when the place was hit by an armed robber. It was believed that Dorsey, who was sitting facing the door, made a move from the booth but was too slow. The gunman cut him down before he got the safety off his gun and he was dead before he hit the floor. A round fired at Cross creased his skull and a second hit him in the neck and lodged in his spine. The bartender was executed last at point blank range.
“And then what happened to the case?” Taylor asked rhetorically, not an ounce of sympathy in his voice for the fallen cops. “Not a damn thing happened. I guarantee it’s been gathering dust like that cheap suit you pulled out of the closet before coming to see me.”
I took the insult because I had to. I just nodded as if I agreed with him. I couldn’t tell if his anger was for the never avenged murder of Angella Benton or for what happened after, the robbery and the next murder and the shutting down of his film.
“It was worked by those guys full-time for six months,” I said. “After that there were other cases. The cases keep coming, Mr. Taylor. It’s not like in your movies. I wish it was.”
“Yes, there are always other cases,” Taylor said. “That’s always the easy out, isn’t it? Blame it on the workload. Meantime, the kid is still dead, the money’s still gone and that’s too bad. Next case. Step right up.”
I waited to make sure he was finished. He wasn’t.
“But now it’s four years later and you show up. What’s your story, Bosch? You con her family into hiring you? Is that it?”
“No. All of her family was in Ohio. I haven’t contacted them.”
“Then what is it?”
“It’s unsolved, Mr. Taylor. And I still care about it. I don’t think it is being worked with any kind of . . . dedication.”
“And that’s it?”
I nodded. Then Taylor nodded to himself.
“Fifty grand,” he said.
“I’ll pay you fifty grand—if you solve the thing. There’s no movie if you don’t solve it.”
“Mr. Taylor, you somehow have the wrong impression. I don’t want your money and this is no movie. All I want right now is your help.”
“Listen to me. I know a good story when I hear it. Detective haunted by the one that got away. It’s a universal theme, tried and true. Fifty up front, we can talk about the back end.”
I gathered the notebook and pen from the bench and stood up. This wasn’t going anywhere, or at least not in the direction I wanted.
“Thanks for your time, Mr. Taylor. If I can’t find my way out I’ll send up a flare.”
As I took my first step toward the door a second chime came from the exercise bike. Taylor spoke to my back.
“Home stretch, Bosch. Come back and ask me your questions. And I’ll keep my fifty grand if you don’t want it.”
I turned back to him but kept standing. I opened the notebook again.
“Let’s start with the money,” I said. “Who from your company knew about it? I’m talking about who knew the specifics; when it was coming in for the shoot and how it was going to be delivered? Anything and anybody you can remember. I’m starting this from scratch.”