The Dark Hours Excerpt
It was supposed to rain for real and that would have put a damper on the annual rain of lead. But the forecast was wrong. The sky was blue-black and clear. And Ballard braced for the onslaught, positioning herself on the north side of the division under the shelter of the Cahuenga overpass. She would have preferred being alone but was riding with a partner, and a reluctant partner at that. Detective Lisa Moore of the Hollywood Division Sexual Assault Unit was a day-shift veteran who just wanted to be home with her girlfriend. But it was always all hands on deck on New Year’s Eve. Tactical alert: everyone in the department in uniform and working twelves. Ballard and Moore had been working since six p.m. and it had been quiet. But it was now about to strike midnight on the last day of the year and the trouble would begin. Added to that, the Midnight Men were out there somewhere. Ballard and her reluctant partner needed to be ready to move quickly when the call came in.
“Do we have to stay here?” Moore asked. “I mean, look at these people. How can they live like this?”
Ballard surveyed the makeshift shelters made of discarded tarps and construction debris that lined both sides of the underpass. She saw a couple of Sterno cook fires and people milling about at their meager encampments. It was so crowded that some shanties were even pressed up against the mobile toilets the city had put on the sidewalks to preserve some semblance of dignity and sanitation in the area. North of the overpass was a residential zone of apartments fronting the hillside area known as the Dell. After multiple reports of people defecating in the streets and yards of the neighborhood, the city came through with the portable toilets. A “humanitarian effort,” it was called.
“You ask that like you think they all want to be living under an overpass,” Ballard said. “Like they have a lot of choices. Where are they going to go? The government gives them toilets. It takes their shit away but not much else.”
“Whatever,” Moore said. “It’s such a blight—every overpass in the fucking city. It’s so third world. People are going to start leaving this place because of this.”
“They already have,” Ballard said. “Anyway, we’re staying here. I’ve spent the last four New Year’s Eves under here and it’s the safest place to be when the shooting starts.”
They were quiet for a few moments after that. Ballard had thought about leaving herself, maybe going back to Hawaii. It wasn’t because of the intractable problem of homelessness that gripped the city. It was everything. The city, the job, the life. It had been a bad year with the pandemic and social unrest and violence. The police department had been vilified, and she along with it. She’d been spat on, figuratively and literally, by the people she thought she stood for. It was a hard lesson, and a sense of futility had set upon her and was deep in the marrow now. She needed some kind of a break. Maybe to go track down her mother in the mountains of Maui and try to reconnect after so many years.
She took one of her hands off the wheel and held her sleeve to her nose. It was her first time back in uniform since the protests. She could make out the smell of tear gas. She had dry-cleaned the uniform twice but the odor was baked in, permanent. It was a good reminder of the year that had been.
The pandemic and protests had changed everything. The department went from being proactive to reactive. And the change had somehow cast Ballard adrift. She had found herself more than once thinking about quitting. That is, until the Midnight Men came along. They had given her purpose.
Moore checked her watch again. Ballard noticed and glanced at the dashboard clock. It was off by an hour, but doing the math told her it was two minutes till midnight.
“Oh, here we go,” Moore said. “Look at this guy.”
She was looking out her window at a man approaching the car. It was below 60 degrees but he wore no shirt and was holding his dirt-caked pants up with his hand. He wore no mask either. Moore had her window cracked but now hit the button and closed and sealed the car.
The homeless man knocked on her window. They could hear him through the glass.
“Hey, officers, I got a problem here.”
They were in Ballard’s unmarked car but she had engaged the flashing grille lights when they parked in the median under the overpass. Plus they were in full uniform.
“Sir, I can’t talk to you without a mask,” Moore said loudly. “Go get a mask.”
“But I been ripped off,” the man said. “That sumbitch o’er there took my shit when I was sleepin’.”
“Sir, I can’t help you until you get a mask,” Moore said.
“I don’t have no fucking mask,” he said.
“Then I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “No mask, no ask.”
The man punched the window, his fist hitting the glass in front of Moore’s face. She jerked back even though it had not been a punch intended to break the glass.
“Sir, step back from the car,” Moore commanded.
“Fuck you,” he said.
“Sir, if I have to get out, you’re going to County,” Moore said. “If you don’t have corona now, you’ll get it there. You want that?”
The man started to walk away.
“Fuck you,” he said again. “Fuck the police.”
“Like I never heard that before,” Moore said.
She checked her watch again and Ballard looked back at the dash clock. It was now the final minute of 2020, and for Moore and most people in the city and the world, the year couldn’t end soon enough.
“Jesus Christ, can we move to another spot?” Moore complained.
“Too late,” Ballard said. “I told you, we’re safe under here.”
“Not from these people,” Moore said.
It was like a bag of popcorn cooking in a microwave. A few pops during the final countdown of the year and then the barrage as the frequency of gunfire made it impossible to separate it into individual discharges. A gunshot symphony. For a solid five minutes, there was an unbroken onslaught as revelers of the new year fired their weapons into the sky, following a Los Angeles tradition of decades.
It didn’t matter that what goes up must come down. Every new year in the City of Angels began with risk.
The gunfire of course was joined by legitimate fireworks and firecrackers, creating a sound unique to the city and as reliable through the years as the changing of the calendar. The over/under at roll call was 18 in terms of calls related to the rain of lead. Windshields mostly would be the victims, though the year before, Ballard caught a report of a bullet falling through a skylight and hitting a stripper on the shoulder who was toiling on a stage below. The falling bullet didn’t even break the skin. But a jagged piece of falling skylight glass did give a customer sitting close to the stage a new part in his hair. He chose not to make a police report, because it would reveal that where he was didn’t match where he had said he would be.
Whatever the number was, patrol would handle most of the calls unless a detective was warranted. Ballard and Moore were mostly waiting for one call. The Midnight Men. It was a painful reality that sometimes you needed predators to strike again in hopes of a mistake or a new piece of evidence that could lead to a solve.
The Midnight Men was the unofficial moniker Ballard had bestowed on the tag team rapists who had assaulted two women in a five-week span. Both assaults had occurred on holiday nights—Thanksgiving night and Christmas Eve. The cases were linked by modus operandi and not DNA. The Midnight Men were careful not to leave DNA behind. Each attack started shortly after midnight and lasted as long as four hours while the predators took turns assaulting women in their own beds, ending the torture by cutting a large hank of each victim’s hair off with the knife held to her throat during the ordeal. Other humiliations were included in the attacks and helped link the cases beyond the rarity of a two-man rape team.
Ballard, as the third watch detective, had been the responding detective on both cases. She had then called in day-watch detectives from the Hollywood Division Sexual Assault Unit. Lisa Moore was a member of that three-detective unit.
In past years, a pair of serial rapists would have immediately drawn the attention of the Sex Crimes Unit that worked out of the Police Administration Building downtown as part of the elite Robbery-Homicide Division. But City Hall cutbacks in police funding had seen the unit disbanded, and sex assault cases were now handled by the divisional detective squads. It was an example of how protesters demanding the defunding of the police department had achieved their goal through unintended means. The move to defund was turned away by the city’s politicians, but the police department had burned through its budget in dealing with the protests that followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. After weeks of tactical alert and associated costs, the department was out of money and the result was freezes on hiring, the disbanding of units, and the end of several programs. In effect, the department had been defunded in several key areas.
Lisa Moore was a perfect example of how all of this led to a downgrade in service to the community. Rather than the Midnight Men investigation going to a specialized unit with many resources and detectives with extra training and experience in serial investigations, it had gone to the overworked and understaffed Hollywood Division sex crime team that was responsible for investigating every rape, attempted rape, assault, groping, indecent exposure, and claim of pedophilia in a vast geographic and population-dense area. And Moore was like many in the department since the protest, looking to do as little as possible between now and her retirement four years away. She was looking at the Midnight Men case as a time suck taking her away from her normal eight-to-four existence, where she dutifully filed paperwork the first half of the day and conducted minimal investigative work after that, leaving the station only if there was no way the work could be done by phone and computer. She had greeted her assignment to work the midnight shift with Ballard over the New Year’s holiday as a major insult and inconvenience. Ballard, on the other side of that coin, had seen it as a chance to get closer to taking down two predators who were out there hurting women.
“What do you hear about the vax?” Moore asked.
Ballard shook her head.
“Probably the same as you hear,” she said. “Next month—maybe.”
Now Moore shook her head.
“Assholes,” she said. “We’re first-fucking-responders and should get it with the fire department. Instead we’re with the grocery workers.”
“The fire guys are considered health-care providers,” Ballard said. “We’re not.”
“I know, but it’s the principle of it. Our union is shit.”
“It’s not the union. It’s the governor, the health department, a lot of things.”
Ballard let it go. It was a complaint heard often at roll calls and in police cars across the city. Like many in the department, Ballard had already contracted COVID-19. She had been knocked down for three weeks in November and now just hoped she had enough antibodies to see her through to the vaccine’s arrival.
During the brooding silence that followed, a patrol car pulled up next to them on Moore’s side, in one of the two southbound lanes.
“You know these guys?” Moore asked as she reached for the window button.
“Unfortunately,” Ballard said. “Pull your mask up.”
It was a team of P2s named Smallwood and Vitello, who always had too much testosterone running in their blood. They also thought they were “too healthy” to contract the virus and eschewed the department-mandated mask requirement.
Moore lowered the window after pulling her mask up.
“How’s things in the tuna boat?” Smallwood said, a wide smile on his face.
Ballard pulled up her department-issued mask. It was navy blue with LAPD embossed in silver along the jaw line.
“You’re blocking traffic there, Smallwood,” Ballard said.
Moore looked back at Ballard.
“Really?” she whispered. Small wood?”
Vitello hit the switch for the light bar on the patrol car’s roof. Flashing blue lit up the graffiti on the concrete walls above the tents and shanties on both sides of the overpass. Various versions of “Fuck the Police” and “Fuck Trump” had been whitewashed by city crews but the messages came through under the penetrating blue light.
“How’s that?” Vitello asked.
“Hey, there’s a guy over there, wants to report a theft of property,” Ballard responded. “Why don’t you two go take a report?”
“Fuck that,” Smallwood said.
“Sounds like detective work to me,” Vitello added.
The conversation, if it could be called that, was interrupted by the voice of a com center dispatcher coming up on the radio in both cars, asking for any 6-William unit, “6” being the designation for Hollywood, and “William” for detective.
“That’s you, Ballard,” Smallwood said.
Ballard pulled the radio out of its charger in the center console and responded.
“Six-William-twenty-six. Go ahead.”
The dispatcher asked her to respond to a shooting with injury on Gower.
“The Gulch,” Vitello called over. “Need backup down there, ladies?”
Hollywood Division was broken into seven different patrol zones called Basic Car Areas. Smallwood and Vitello were assigned to the area that included the Hollywood Hills, where crime was low and most of the residents they encountered were white. This was a move designed to keep them out of trouble and away from confrontational enforcement with minorities. However, that had not always worked. Ballard had heard about them roughing up teenagers in cars parked illegally on Mulholland Drive, where there were spectacular views of the city at night.
“I think we can handle it,” Ballard called across. “You boys can go back up to Mulholland and watch for kids throwing their condoms out the window. Make it safe up there, guys.”
She dropped the car into drive and hit the gas before either Smallwood or Vitello could manage a comeback.
“Poor guy,” Moore said without sympathy in her voice. “Officer Smallwood.”
“Yeah,” Ballard said. “And he tries to make up for it every night on patrol.”
Moore laughed as they sped south on Cahuenga.
The Gower Gulch was the name affixed by Hollywood lore to the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street, where almost a hundred years ago it was a pickup spot for day laborers. These laborers waited at the corner for work as extras on the westerns the movie studios were turning out by the week. Many of the Hollywood cowboys waited at the intersection in full costume—dusty boots, chaps, vests, ten-gallon hats—so it became known as the Gower Gulch. It was said that a young actor named Marion Morrison picked up work here. He was better known as John Wayne.
The Gulch was now a shopping plaza with the fading facade of an Old West town and portraits of the Hollywood cowboys—from Wayne to Gene Autry—hanging on the outside wall of the Rite Aid drugstore. Going south from the Gulch, a stretch of studio stages as big as gymnasiums lined the east side all the way down to the crown jewel of Hollywood, Paramount Studios. The storied studio was surrounded by twelve-foot-high walls and iron gates, like a prison. But these barriers were constructed to keep people out, not in.
The west side of Gower was a contradiction. It was lined with a stretch of car repair shops sharing space with aging apartments where burglar bars guarded all windows and doors. The west side was marked heavily by the graffiti of a local gang called Las Palmas 13, but the east-side walls of the studios were left unmarred, as if those with the spray paint knew by some intuition not to mess with the industry that built the city.
The shooting call took Ballard and Moore to a street party in the tow yard of an auto body shop. Several people were milling about in the street, most without masks, most watching officers from two patrol cars who were taping off a crime scene inside the gated and asphalt-paved yard lined with vehicles in different stages of repair and restoration.
“So we have to do this, huh?” Moore said.
“I do,” Ballard said.
She opened the door and got out of the car. She knew her answer would shame Moore into following. Ballard was pretty sure she was going to need Moore to help with this.
Ballard ducked under yellow tape stretched across the entrance to the business and quickly ascertained that the victim of the shooting was not on scene and had been transported. She saw Sergeant Dave Byron and another officer trying to corral a group of potential witnesses in one of the business’s open garages. Two other uniforms were stringing an inner boundary around the actual crime scene, which was marked by a pool of blood and debris left behind by the paramedics. Ballard walked directly to Byron.
“Dave, what do you have for me?” she asked.
Byron looked over his shoulder at her. He was masked but she could tell by his eyes that he was smiling.
“Ballard, I have a shit sandwich for you,” he said.
She signaled him away from the citizens so they could talk privately.
“Folks, you all stay right here,” Byron said, holding his hands up in a stay-put motion to the witnesses, a sign that they might not understand English.
He joined Ballard by the front of the rusting body of an old VW bus. He looked at what he had jotted down in a small notebook.
“Your victim is supposedly Javier Raffa, owner of the business,” he said. “Lives about a block from here.”
He pointed a thumb over his shoulder, indicating the neighborhood west of the body shop.
“For what it’s worth, he has tats indicating an affiliation with Las Palmas,” Byron added. “Old tattoos.”
“Okay,” Ballard said. “Where’d they transport him?”
“Hollywood Pres. He was circling.”
“What did the wits tell you?”
“Not much. Left them for you. Raffa apparently has the gates open and puts out a keg every New Year’s Eve. It’s for the neighborhood but a lot of Las Palmas shows up. After the countdown, there was some shooting of firearms into the sky, and then suddenly Raffa was on the ground. So far, nobody is saying they actually saw him get hit. And you’ve got shell casings all over the place. Good luck with that.”
Ballard shot her chin toward a camera mounted on the roof eave over the corner of the garage.
“What about cameras?” she asked.
“The cameras outside are dummies,” Byron said. “Cameras inside are legit but I have not checked them. I’m told they are not in a position to be of much help.”
“Okay. You get here before the EMTs?”
“I did not. But the basic car did. Finley and Watts. They said it was a head wound. They’re over there and you can go talk to them.”
Ballard checked to see if either of the uniforms who were marking the boundary was a Spanish speaker. Ballard knew basic Spanish but was not skilled enough to conduct witness interviews. She saw that one of the officers tying the crime scene tape to the sideview mirror of an old pickup was Victor Rodriquez.
“You mind if I keep V-Rod to translate?” she asked.
Ballard thought she saw the lines of a frown form on Byron’s mask.
“How long?” he asked.
“Preliminary with the witnesses and then maybe the family when we go to the house,” Ballard said. “I’ll get somebody from detective services if we transport anybody back to the station.”
“All right, but anything else comes up, I’m going to need to pull him back out.”
“Roger that. I’ll move fast.”
Ballard walked over to Rodriquez, who had been with the division for about a year after transferring from Rampart.
“Victor, you’re with me,” Ballard said.
“I am?” he said.
“Let’s go talk to witnesses.”
Moore caught up to Ballard in step toward the group of witnesses.
“I thought you were staying in the car,” Ballard said.
“What do you need?” Moore said.
“I could use someone at Hollywood Pres to check on the victim. You want to take the car and head over?”
“Or you can interview witnesses and family while I go.”
“Give me the keys.”
“I thought so. Keys are still in the car. Let me know what you find out.”
Ballard briefed Rodriquez in a whisper as they approached the witnesses.
“Don’t lead them,” she said. “We just want to know what they saw, what they heard, anything they remember before they saw Mr. Raffa on the ground.”
They spent the next forty minutes doing quick interviews with the collected witnesses, none of whom saw the victim get shot. In separate interviews, each described a crowded, chaotic scene in the lot during which most people were looking up at the stroke of midnight as fireworks and bullets cut through the sky. Though no one admitted doing it themselves, they acknowledged that there were those in the neighborhood crowd who had fired guns into the air. None of these witnesses revealed enough to make them important enough to transport to the station for another round of questioning. Ballard copied their addresses and phone numbers into her notebook and told them to expect follow-up contact from homicide investigators.
As she was wrapping up with the last witness, she got a call from Moore, who was at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center.
“The victim’s family is all here, and they are about to get the word that he didn’t make it,” she said. “What do you want me to do?”
I want you to act like a trained detective, Ballard thought but didn’t say.
“Keep the family there,” she said instead. “I’m on my way.”
“I’ll try,” Moore said.
“Don’t try, do it,” Ballard said. “I’ll be there in ten. Do you know if they speak English?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Okay, find out and text me. I’ll bring somebody in case.”
“What’s it looking like over there?”
“Too early to tell. If it was an accident, the shooter didn’t stick around. And if it wasn’t, I’ve got no camera and no witnesses.”
Ballard disconnected and walked over to Rodriquez.
“Victor, you need to drive me to Hollywood Pres,” she said.
Ballard informed Byron of where she was going and asked him to keep the crime scene secured until she got back.
As she crossed the lot, following Rodriquez to his car, she saw the first drops of rain hitting the asphalt amid the bullet casings.
Rodriquez used the lights but not the siren to speed their drive to the hospital. Ballard used the minutes to call her lieutenant at home to update him. Derek Robinson-Reynolds, the OIC of Hollywood detectives, picked up immediately, having texted Ballard a request for the update.
“Ballard, I was expecting to hear from you sooner than this.”
“Sorry, L-T. We had several witnesses to talk to before we could get a handle on this. I also just heard that our victim is DOA.”
“Then I’ll have to get West Bureau out. I know they are already running full squad on a two-bagger from yesterday.”
Homicides were handled out of West Bureau. Robinson-Reynolds was ready to pass the investigation off but knew it would not be well received by his counterpart at West Bureau homicide.
“Sir, you can do that, of course, but I haven’t determined what this is yet. There were a lot of people shooting guns at midnight. Not sure if this was accidental or intentional. I’m heading to the hospital now to get a look at him.”
“Well, didn’t any of the witnesses see it?”
“Not the witnesses who stuck around. None of them said they saw it. They just saw the victim on the ground. Anybody who saw it scrammed out of there before the unies got on scene.”
There was a pause as the lieutenant considered his next move.
They were a block from the hospital. Ballard spoke before Robinson-Reynolds responded.
“Let me run with it, L-T.”
Robinson-Reynolds remained silent. Ballard made her case.
“West Bureau is running on the two-bagger. We don’t even know what this is yet. Let me stay with it and we’ll see where it stands in the morning when you come in.”
The lieutenant finally spoke.
“I don’t know, Ballard. Not sure I want you capering out there on your own.”
“I’m not alone. I’m with Lisa Moore, remember?”
“Right, right. Nothing on that tonight?”
He was asking about the Midnight Men.
“Not so far. We’re pulling into Hollywood Pres now. The family of the victim is here.”
It pushed Robinson-Reynolds to make a decision.
“Okay, I’ll hold off on West Bureau. For now. Keep me informed. No matter the hour, Ballard.”
Robinson-Reynolds disconnected. Ballard’s phone buzzed with a text as Rodriquez was pulling to a stop behind Ballard’s car, which had been left by Moore in an ambulance bay.
“Was that Dash?” Rodriquez asked. “What did he say?”
He was using the short name ascribed to Robinson-Reynolds by most in the division when not addressing the lieutenant personally. Ballard checked the text. It had come in from Moore: No English spoken here.
“He gave us the green light,” Ballard said.
“Us?” Rodriquez said.
“I’m probably going to need you in here again.”
“Sergeant Byron told me to double-time back.”
“Sergeant Byron’s not in charge of the investigation. I am, and you’re with me until I say otherwise.”
“Roger that—as long as you tell him.”
Ballard found Moore in the ER waiting room, surrounded by a group of crying women and one teenage boy. Raffa’s family had just gotten the bad news about their husband and father. A wife, three adult daughters, and the son were all exhibiting various degrees of shock, grief, and anger.
“Oh, boy,” Rodriquez said as they approached.
Nobody liked intruding on the kind of trauma unexpected death brings.
“I heard you want to be a detective someday, V-Rod,” Ballard asked.
“Roger that,” Rodriquez responded.
“Okay, I want you to help Detective Moore interview the family. Do more than translate. Ask the questions. Any known enemies, his association with Las Palmas, who else was at the shop tonight. Get names.”
“Okay, what about you? Where are—”
“I need to check the body, then I’ll be joining you.”
“Good. Let Detective Moore know.”
Ballard split off from him and went to the check-in counter. Soon she was led back to the nursing station that was in the middle of the ER. It was surrounded by multiple examination and treatment spaces separated by curtain walls. She asked a nurse if the body of the gunshot victim had been moved yet from a treatment space. She was told that the hospital was waiting for a coroner’s team to pick it up. She was pointed to a closed curtain.
Ballard pulled back the pastel green curtain, entered the single-bed examination space, and then pulled the curtain closed behind her. Javier Raffa’s body was faceup on the bed. There had been no attempt to cover him. His shirt—a blue work shirt with his name on an oval patch—was pulled open and his chest still showed conduit ointment, likely from paddles that had been used to revive him. His eyes were open and there was a rubber device extending from the mouth. Ballard knew it was placed in the mouth of patients exhibiting seizures.
There was a bullet entry wound below the right eye and close to the bridge of the nose.
Ballard pulled a pair of black rubber gloves out of a compartment on her equipment belt and stretched them on. Using both hands, she gently turned the dead man’s head to check for an exit wound. She noticed a discolored area of skin on the right side of the neck. She turned the head fully to confirm there was no exit wound. The bullet was still inside.
She turned the head back and then leaned farther over the bed to look closely at the wound. She guessed that it had been made by a small-caliber bullet and noticed that the wound was outlined by a ring of darkened skin. It was tattooing from burnt gunpowder discharged from the barrel of the weapon that fired the bullet into Javier Raffa’s head.
In that moment, Ballard knew this had been no accident. Raffa had been murdered. A killer had used the moment when all eyes were cast upward to the midnight sky and there was gunfire all around to press the muzzle of a gun to Raffa’s face and pull the trigger. And in that moment, Ballard knew she wanted the case, that she would find a way to keep this conclusion to herself until she was too deeply embedded to be removed.
She knew this could be the solve she needed to save herself.
Ballard pulled the curtain closed after stepping out of the treatment bay. She stepped over to the nursing station so she would not block traffic in the busy ER. She pulled her phone and called the number for the Hollywood Division Gang Intelligence Unit. No one picked up. She then called the inside line in the watch office. Sergeant Kyle Dallas answered and Ballard asked him who was working second twelves from GIU.
“That would be Janzen and Cordero,” Dallas said. “And I think Sergeant Davenport is around too.”
“Out or in?” Ballard asked.
“I just saw Cordero in the break room, so I guess they may have all come in now that the witching hour is passed.”
“Okay, if you see them, tell them to stay put. I need to talk to them. I’ll be in soon.”
“You got it.”
Ballard went through the automatic doors to the waiting room and saw Moore and Rodriquez sitting in the corner with the Raffa family in a group interview. Renée was annoyed that Moore had not conducted individual interviews but then she reminded herself that Moore was used to investigating sexual assaults, which usually involved solo interviews of victims. Moore was out of her league here and Rodriquez just didn’t know any better.
Ballard saw that the son was sitting outside the inner huddle and looking over the shoulders of two of his sisters at Moore. She walked up and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Do you speak English?” she whispered.
The boy nodded.
“Come with me, please,” Ballard said.
She led him over to another corner. The waiting room was surprisingly uncrowded. Surprising for any night of the week but particularly so for post-midnight on New Year’s Eve. She pointed to a chair for the boy to take and then pulled a second chair away from the wall and positioned it so they could talk face-to-face.
They both sat down.
“What’s your name?” Ballard asked.
“Gabriel,” the boy said.
“You are Javier’s son?”
“I’m sorry for your loss. We are going to find out what happened and who did it. I’m Detective Ballard. You can call me Renée.”
Gabriel eyed her uniform.
“Detective?” he asked.
“We had to be in uniform for New Year’s Eve,” Ballard said. “Everybody out on the street, that sort of thing. How old are you?”
“What school do you go to?”
“And you were at the shop’s tow yard tonight at midnight?”
“Were you with your father?”
“Uh, no, I was…over by the Caddy.”
While at the crime scene, Ballard had seen a rusting old Cadillac parked in the lot. Its trunk was open and there was a beer keg sitting in a bed of ice inside it.
“Were you with anyone by the Caddy?” Ballard asked.
“My girlfriend,” Gabriel said.
“What’s her name?”
“I don’t want to get her in trouble or nothing.”
“She’s not in trouble. We’re just trying to figure out who all was there tonight, that’s all.”
“Lara Rosas,” Gabriel finally said.
“Thank you, Gabriel,” Ballard said. “Do you know Lara from school or the neighborhood?”
“And she went home?”
“Yeah, she left when we came here.”
“Did you see what happened to your father?”
“No, I just saw after. Him laying there.”
Gabriel was exhibiting no emotion and Ballard saw no tear lines on his face. She knew this meant nothing. People process and express shock and grief in different ways. No behavior or lack of shown emotion should be considered suspicious.
“Did you see anybody at the party that you thought was strange or didn’t belong?” Ballard asked.
“Not really,” Gabriel said. “There was a guy there at the keg who didn’t look like he belonged. But it was a street party. Who could say.”
“Was he asked to leave?”
“No, he was just there. He got his beer and then I guess he left. I didn’t see him no more.”
“Was he from the neighborhood?”
“I doubt it. I never saw him before.”
“What made you say that he didn’t look like he belonged?”
“Well, he was a white guy, plus he seemed kind of dirty, you know. His clothes and stuff.”
“You think he was homeless?”
“I don’t know, maybe. That’s what I thought.”
“And this was before the shooting that you saw him?”
“Yeah, before. Definitely. It was before everyone started looking up.”
“You said his clothes were dirty. What was he wearing?”
“A gray hoodie and blue jeans. His pants were dirty.”
“Was it dirt or grease?”
“Like dirt, I think.”
“What about his shoes, do you remember them?”
“Nah, I don’t know about his shoes.”
Ballard paused and tried to commit the details of the stranger to memory. She was not writing anything down. She thought it would be better to maintain eye contact with Gabriel and not possibly spook him by taking out a notebook and pen.
“Who else did you notice who wasn’t right?” she asked.
“Nobody,” Gabriel said. “That was it.”
“And you’re not sure if the guy in the hoodie hung around after getting his beer?”
“I didn’t see him again.”
“So, when you last saw him, how long was that before midnight and all the shooting started?”
“I don’t know, a half hour. Maybe longer.”
Ballard nodded. It was now time to ask more difficult questions and hold this kid to her side as long as she could.
“Did you fire any weapons tonight, Gabriel?” she asked.
“No, no way.” Gabriel said.
“Okay, good. Are you associated with Las Palmas Thirteen?”
“What are you asking me? I’m no gangster. My parents said no way.”
“Don’t get upset. I’m just trying to figure out what is what. I need to know who I’m dealing with. You’re not associated, that’s good. But your father was. I just saw the tattoos on his neck.”
“He quit that shit a long time ago. He was totally legit.”
“Okay, that’s good to know. But I heard there were guys from Las Palmas in the shop yard for the party. Is that true?”
“I don’t know, maybe. My father grew up with these people. He didn’t just throw them in the trash. But he was legit, his business was legit, he even had a white man as his partner. So don’t go starting no shit about ‘gang related.’ That’s bullshit.”
“Good to know, Gabriel. Can you tell me, was his partner there?”
“I didn’t see him. Are we done here?”
“Not yet, Gabriel. What is the partner’s name?”
“I don’t know. He’s a doctor up out in Malibu or some shit. I only seen him once when he came in with a bent frame.”
“A bent frame?”
“His Mercedes. He backed into something and bent the frame.”
“Got it. Okay, I need two more things from you, Gabriel.”
“I need your girlfriend’s phone number and I need you to step outside to my car for a minute.”
“Why should I go with you? I want to see my father.”
“They’re not going to let you see your father, Gabriel. Not till later. I want to help you. I want this to be the last time you have to talk to the police about this. But to do that, I need to wipe your hands to make sure you’re telling the truth.”
“You said you didn’t fire a gun tonight. I wipe your hands with something I have in my car and we’ll know for sure. After that, you’ll only hear from me when I come by to tell you we caught the person who did this to your father.”
Ballard waiting while Gabriel considered the options.
“If you won’t do it, I have to assume you lied to me. You don’t want that, do you?”
“All right, whatever, let’s do it.”
Ballard walked over to the group first to ask Moore for the car keys. She was told they were in the car. She then led Gabriel out to the ambulance bays. She got his girlfriend’s cell number, then got the keys and opened her car’s trunk. She had a packet of wipe pads for gunshot-residue testing. She used separate pads to wipe both Gabriel’s hands, then sealed them in plastic bags to be submitted to the lab.
“See, no gunpowder, right?” Gabriel said.
“The lab will confirm that,” Ballard said. “But I already believe you, Gabriel.”
“So, what do I do now?”
“You go in and be with your mother and your sisters. They’re going to need you to be strong for them.”
Gabriel nodded and his face contorted. It was as though telling him to be strong had kicked his strength out from beneath him.
“You okay?” Ballard asked.
She touched his shoulder.
“You’re going to catch this guy, right?” he said.
“Yeah,” Ballard said. “We’re going to catch him.”
Ballard didn’t get back to the station until almost three a.m. She went up the stairs off the back hallway and into the room shared by the Gang Intel and Vice units. It was long and rectangular and usually empty because both units worked the streets. But the room now was crowded. Officers from both squads, in uniforms like Ballard, sat behind desks and at work tables going down the length of the room. The large crowd could be explained in a number of ways. First, it was difficult to work vice and gangs in full uniform, as dictated by the department’s tactical alert. It could also mean that, because it was beyond the witching hours of midnight to two a.m., everyone had returned to the house on break. But Ballard knew that it could also be that this was the new LAPD—officers stripped of the mandate of proactive enforcement and waiting to be reactive, to hit the streets only when it was requested and required, and only then doing the minimum that was required so as not to engender a complaint or controversy.
To Ballard, much of the department had fallen into the pose of a citizen caught in the middle of a bank robbery. Head down, eyes averted, adhering to the warning; nobody move and nobody gets hurt.
She spotted Sergeant Davenport at the end of one of the work tables and headed toward him. He looked up from a cell phone to see her coming, and a smile of recognition creased his face. He was mid-forties and had been working gangs in the division for over a decade.
“Ballard,” he said. “I hear El Chopo got it tonight.”
Ballard stopped at the table.
“El Chopo?” she asked.
“That’s what we called Javier back in the day,” Davenport said. “When he was a gangster and using his padre’s place as a chop shop.”
“But not anymore?”
“He supposedly went straight after his wife started dropping kids.”
“I was surprised I didn’t see you out at the scene tonight. That why?”
“That and other things. Just doin’ what the people want.”
“Which is staying off the street?”
“It’s pretty clear if they can’t defund us, they want to de-see us. We’re just giving the people what they want, right, GoGo?”
Davenport looked for affirmation to a gang cop named Gomez.
“Right, Sergeant,” Gomez said.
Ballard pulled out the empty chair to Davenport’s right side and sat down. She decided to drop the questioning of Davenport’s motives and current views of policing the city.
“So, what can you tell me about Javier?” she asked. “Do you believe he went straight? Would Las Palmas even allow that?”
“The word is that twelve or fifteen years ago, he bought his way out,” Davenport said. “And as far as we know, he’s been clean and legit ever since.”
“Or too smart for you?”
“There’s always that possibility.”
“Well, do you still have a file on the guy?” Ballard asked. “Shake cards, anything?”
“Oh, we got a file,” Davenport said. “It’s probably a little dusty. GoGo, pull the file on Javier Raffa and bring it to Detective Ballard.”
Gomez got up and walked to the line of four-drawer file cabinets that ran the length of one side of the room.
“That’s how far this guy goes back,” Davenport said. “He’s in the paper files.”
“So, not on your radar anymore?” Ballard pressed.
“Nope. And we would have known if he was active. We follow some of the OGs. If they were meeting, we would have seen it.”
“How far up was Raffa before he dropped out?”
“Not far. He was a soldier. We never made a case on the guy but we knew he was chopping stolen cars for the team.”
“How did you hear he bought his way out?”
Davenport shook his head like he couldn’t remember.
“Just the grapevine,” he said. “I can’t name you the snitch offhand—it was a long time ago. But that was what was said, and as far as we could tell, it was accurate.”
“How much does something like that cost?” Ballard asked.
“Can’t remember. It might be in the file.”
Gomez returned from the cabinets and handed a file to Davenport instead of Ballard. He in turned handed it to Ballard.
“Knock yourself out,” he said.
“Can I take this?” Ballard asked.
“As long as you bring it back.”
Ballard took the file, got up, and walked out. She had the feeling that several of the men were watching as she left the room.
She went down the stairs and into the detective bureau, where she saw Lisa Moore at her desk. She was typing on her computer.
“You’re back,” Ballard said.
“No thanks to you,” Moore said. “You left me with those people and that kid cop.”
“Rodriquez? He probably has five years on. He’s been in the division longer than I have.”
“Doesn’t matter, he looks like a kid.”
“Did you get anything good from the wife and daughters?”
“No, but I’m writing it up, anyway. Where is this going, anyway?”
“I’m going to keep it for a bit. Send whatever you’ve got to me.”
“Not to West Bureau?”
“They’re running all teams on a double murder. So I’ll work this until they’re ready to take it.”
“And Dash is okay with that?”
“I talked to him. It’s not a problem.”
“What do you have there?”
She pointed to the file Ballard was carrying.
“And old gang file on Raffa,” Ballard said. “Davenport said he hasn’t been active in years, that he bought his way out when he started a family.”
“Aw, isn’t that sweet,” Moore said.
The sarcasm was clear in her voice. Ballard had long realized that Moore had lost her empathy. Working sex cases full time probably did that. Losing empathy for victims was a protective measure, but Ballard hoped it never happened to her. Police work could easily hollow you out. But she believed that losing one’s empathy was losing one’s soul.
“Send me your reports when you’re ready to file,” Ballard said.
“Will do,” Moore said.
“And nothing on the Midnight Men, right?”
“Not yet. Maybe they’re lying low tonight.”
“It’s still early. On Thanksgiving, we didn’t get the call out till dawn.”
“Wonderful. Can’t wait till dawn.”
The sarcasm again. Ballard ignored it and grabbed an empty desk nearby. Because she worked the late show, she didn’t have an assigned desk. She was expected to borrow a desk in the room whenever she needed one. She looked at a few of the knickknacks on the one shelf in the cubicle where she sat and quickly realized it was the workstation of a dayside CAPs detective named Tom Newsome. He loved baseball, and there were several souvenir balls on little pedestals on the shelf. They had been signed by Dodgers players past and present. The gem of the collection was in a small plastic cube to protect it. It wasn’t signed by a player. Instead the signature was from the man who had called Dodgers games on radio and TV for more than fifty years. Vince Scully was revered as the voice of the city because he transcended baseball. Even Ballard knew who he was and she thought that Newsome was risking the theft of the ball, even in a police station.
Opening the file, Ballard was greeted by a booking photo of Javier Raffa as a young man. He had died at age thirty-eight, and the photo was from a 2003 arrest for receiving stolen property. She read the details on the arrest report the photo was clipped to. It said Raffa had been pulled over in a 1977 Ford pickup truck with several used auto parts in the bed. One of these parts—a trans-axle—still had the manufacturing serial number embossed on it, and it was traced to a Mercedes G Wagon reported stolen in the San Fernando Valley the month before.
According to the records in the file, Raffa’s lawyer, listed as Michael Haller, negotiated a disposition that got the twenty-one-year-old Javier probation and community service in exchange for a guilty plea. The case was then expunged from Raffa’s record when he completed probation and 120 hours of community service without issue. The file noted that his community service included painting over gang graffiti affixed to freeway overpasses throughout the city.
It was the one and only arrest record in the file, although there were several field interview cards paper-clipped together in the file. These were all dated before the arrest and went back through the years to when Raffa was sixteen years old. Most of these came out of basic gang rousts. Patrol breaking up parties or Hollywood Boulevard cruise lines. Officers taking down names and associates, tattoos, and other descriptors to be fed into Gang Intel files and databases. As the son of a body shop owner, Raffa was always driving classic and restored cars or low riders that were also described on the shake cards.
From early on in the cards Raffa had the nickname El Chopo ascribed to him. It was an obvious take on the moniker of one of the biggest cartel kingpins, known as El Chapo, which translated from Spanish to mean “Shorty.” One note that caught Ballard’s eye and was repeated on the four cards written and filed between 2000 and 2003 was a descriptor of a tattoo on the right side of Raffa’s neck. It depicted a white billiard ball with an orange stripe and the number 13—a reference to Las Palmas 13 and its association with and deference to la eMe, the prison gang also known as the Mexican Mafia. The 13 was a reference to M, the thirteenth letter of the alphabet.
Ballard thought about the discoloration she had seen on Raffa’s neck. She realized it was laser scarring from when he’d had the tattoo removed.
There was an intel report in the file dated October 25, 2005, that was a bullet-point recounting of multiple nuggets of unsubstantiated bits of gossip and information from a confidential informant identified as LP3. Ballard assumed that the informant was a Las Palmas insider. She scanned through the separate entries and found one entry about Raffa.
- Javier Raffa (El Chopo) DOB 02/14/82—said to have paid Humberto Viera $25K cash tribute for no-strings separation from the gang.
Ballard had never heard of someone buying their way out of a gang. She had always known of the “blood in, blood out, till death do us part” rule of gang law. She picked up the desk phone. Newsome had taped a station phone directory to it. She called the extension next to GIU and asked for Sergeant Davenport. While she waited for him to come on the line, she picked one of the baseballs off its pedestal and tried to make out the signature scribbled on it. She knew little about baseball or the Dodgers or the players on the team past and present. To her, the first name on the signature looked like Mookie but she thought she had to have that wrong.
Davenport came on the line.
“It’s Ballard, got a question.”
“Humberto Viera of Las Palmas, is he still around?”
“Depends on what you mean by ‘around,’” he said. “He’s been up in Pelican Bay for at least eight, ten years. And he isn’t coming back.”
“Your case?” Ballard asked.
“I was part of it, yeah. Got him on a couple of one-eight-sevens of White Fence guys. We flipped the getaway driver, and that was it for Humberto. Bye-bye on him.”
“Okay. Anyone else I could talk to about Javier Raffa buying his way out of the gang?”
“Hmm. I don’t think so. That goes pretty far back, as far as I remember. I mean, there are always OGs around but they’re original gangsters because they toe the line. But for the most part, these gangs turn over membership every eight or ten years. Nobody’s going to talk to you about Raffa.”
“What about LP-three?”
There was a pause before Davenport answered.
“What do you think you’ll get out of her?”
“So it’s a woman?”
“I didn’t say that. What do you think you will get out of him?”
“I don’t know. I’m looking for a reason somebody put a bullet in Javier Raffa’s head.”
“Well, LP-three is long gone. That’s a dead end.”
“You’re sure now?”
“Thanks, Sergeant. I’ll catch you later.”
Ballard put the phone in its cradle. It was clear to her from Davenport’s gaffe that LP3 was a woman and possibly still active as an informant. Otherwise he would not have been so clumsy in trying to cover up his slip of the tongue. Ballard didn’t know what it meant in terms of her case, considering that Raffa had apparently separated from the gang more than fifteen years earlier. But it was good to know that if the case turned toward the gang, the GIU had an insider who could provide insight and information.
“What was that about?” Moore asked.
She was sitting across the aisle from Ballard.
“Gang Intel,” Ballard said. “They don’t want me talking to their Las Palmas CI.”
“Figures,” Moore said.
Ballard wasn’t sure what that meant but didn’t respond. She knew Moore was one and done on the late show. Her involvement in the case would end when the sun came up and her shift was over, the tactical alert was ended, and all officers returned to their normal schedules. Moore would be back on dayside, but Ballard would be left alone to work in the dark hours.
It was exactly the way she wanted it.
Ballard began putting together the murder book on the Raffa case. This effort started with the tedious job of writing out the incident report, which described the killing and identified the victim but also included many mundane details such as time of the initial call, names of responding patrol officers, ambient temperature, next-of-kin notification, and other details that were important in documenting but not solving the case. She then wrote summaries of the witness interviews she had conducted and collected from Lisa Moore, though Moore’s documentation was short and perfunctory. A summary of the interview with Raffa’s youngest daughter had only one line: “This girl knows nothing and can contribute nothing to the investigation.”
All of this was put into a three-ring binder. Lastly, Ballard started a case chrono that documented her movements by time and included mention of her discussion with Davenport. She then made copies of the documents in the GIU file and put them in the binder as well. She got all of this done by five a.m. and then got up and approached Moore, who was looking at email on her phone. Their shift ended in an hour but that didn’t matter to Ballard.
“I’m going to go downtown to see what Forensics collected,” Ballard said. “You want to stay or go?”
“I think I’ll stay,” Moore said. “There is no way you’ll be back by six.”
“Right. Then do you mind taking the GIU file back up to Davenport?”
“No, I’ll take it. But why are you doing this?”
“Running with the case. It’s a homicide. You’re just going to turn it over to West Bureau as soon as everybody wakes up over there.”
“Maybe. But maybe they’ll let me work it.”
“You’re giving the rest of us a bad name, Renée.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Just stay in your lane. Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt, right?”
“You didn’t say that about me jumping on the Midnight Men case,” she said.
“That’s rape,” Moore said. “You’re talking about a homicide case.”
“I don’t see the difference. There’s a victim and there’s a case.”
“Well, put it this way: West Bureau will see a difference. They’re not going to be nice about you trying to take away one of theirs.”
“Well, we’ll see. I’m going. Let me know if our two assholes hit again.”
“Oh, I will. And you do the same.”
Ballard went back to her borrowed desk, closed her laptop, and collected her things. She pulled up her mask and then headed out. After leaving the station, she took the 101 toward downtown, driving through the pre-dawn grays toward the towers that always seemed lit at any hour of darkness. Traffic had generally been cut in half during the pandemic, but the city at this hour was dead, and Ballard made it to the 10 east interchange in less than fifteen minutes. From there it was only another five minutes before the exit to the Cal State L.A. campus. The Forensic Science Center, the five-story lab shared by the LAPD and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, was at the south end of the vast campus.
The building seemed just as quiet as the streets. Ballard took the elevator up to the third floor, where the crime scene techs worked. She buzzed her way in and was met by a criminalist named Anthony Manzano, who had been out at the Javier Raffa crime scene.
“Ballard,” he said. “I was wondering who I was going to hear from.”
“It’s me, for now,” Ballard said. “West Bureau is running with a double and it’s all hands on deck for now.”
“You don’t have to tell me. Everybody but me is working it. Come on back.”
“Must be a hairy case.”
“More like a TV case and they don’t want to look bad.”
Ballard had been curious about why no media had turned up at the Gower Gulch case. She had thought that the initial theory, that someone had been killed by a falling bullet, would have been catnip to the media, but so far, there had been no calls and no show-ups from the media that she was aware of.
Manzano led her through the lab to his workstation. She saw three other criminalists at work in other pods and assumed they were on the West Bureau case.
“What is the case out there?” she asked casually.
“Elderly couple robbed and murdered,” Manzano said.
After a pause he delivered the kicker.
“They were set on fire,” he said. “While alive.”
“Jesus Christ,” Ballard said.
She shook her head but immediately thought, yes, the media would be all over that case, and the department would want to give the appearance of no stone unturned and would throw several bodies on the case. That meant she stood a good chance of being able to keep the Raffa case if she could get the approval of her boss, Lieutenant Robinson-Reynolds.
There was a light table in Manzano’s pod, and spread across it was a wide piece of graph paper on which he had been in the process of sketching the crime scene.
“This is your scene right here and I’ve been plotting the locations of the casings we collected,” Manzano said. “It looked like the shootout at the O.K. Corral out there.”
“You mean the firing into the sky, right?” Ballard said.
“I do, and it’s interesting. We have thirty-one shells recovered and I think it adds up to only three guns in play—including the murder weapon.”
To the side of the graph paper was a clipboard with Manzano’s notes and drawings from the scene. There was also an open cardboard box containing the thirty-one bullet casings in individual plastic evidence bags.
“Okay, so thirty-one shots produced thirty-one shells on the ground,” Manzano said. “We have three separate calibers and ammunition brands, so this becomes pretty easy to figure out.”
He reached into the box, rooted around in it, and came out with one of the bagged bullet casings.
“We have identified seventeen casings as nine-millimeter PDX1 rounds produced by Winchester,” Manzano said. “You will have to get confirmation from FU but to me, as a nonexpert, the firing-pin marks on these look alike, and that would suggest they all came from a nine-millimeter weapon that would hold sixteen rounds in the clip and one in the chamber if fully loaded.”
Manzano had referenced the Firearms Unit, which was no longer called that because of the meaning associated with the acronym. It had been updated to Firearms Analysis Unit.
“I think you are probably looking at a Glock seventeen or similar weapon there,” Manzano said. “Then we have thirteen casings that were forty-caliber and manufactured by Federal. I looked at our ammo catalog and these likely were jacketed hollow points, but FU would have an opinion on that. And of course these could have been fired by any number of firearms. Twelve in the clip, one in the chamber.”
“Okay,” Ballard said. “That leaves one casing.”
Manzano reached into the box and found the bag containing the last bullet.
“Yes,” he said. “And this is a Remington twenty-two.”
Ballard took the evidence bag and looked at the brass casing. She was sure it was from the bullet that killed Javier Raffa.
“This is good, Anthony,” she said. “Show me where you found it?”
Manzano pointed to an X on the crime scene schematic that had the marker number 1 next to it and was inside the rectangular outline of a car. To the right of the car was a stick figure that Ballard took be Javier Raffa.
“Of course, the victim was transported before we got there, but the blood pool and EMT debris marked that spot,” he said. “The casing was nine feet, two inches from the blood and located under one of the wrecks in the tow yard. The Chevy Impala, I believe.”
Ballard realized that they had caught a break. The ejected shell had gone under the car and that made it difficult for the gunman to retrieve it before people started to notice that Raffa was down.
She held up the evidence bag.
“Can I take this to Firearms?” she asked.
“I’ll write a COC,” Manzano said.
He was talking about a chain-of-custody receipt.
“Do you know if anyone is over there?” Ballard asked.
“Should be somebody,” Manzano said. “They’re on tac alert like everybody else.”
Ballard pulled her phone and checked the time. Tactical alert would end in fifteen minutes. It was Friday and the January 1 holiday. The Firearms Analysis Unit might possibly go dark.
“Okay, let me sign the COC and get over there before they leave,” she said.
The FAU was just down the hall and Ballard entered with ten minutes to spare. At first she thought she was too late. She didn’t see anyone and then she heard someone sneeze.
“Sorry,” someone said. “Coming out.”
A man in a black polo shirt with the FAU logo stepped out from one of the gun storage racks that lined one wall of the unit. The unit had collected so many varieties of firearms over the years that they were displayed in rows of racks that could be closed together like an accordion.
The man was carrying a feather duster.
“Just doing a little housekeeping,” he said. “We wouldn’t want Sirhan’s gun to get dusty. It’s part of history.”
Ballard just stared for a moment.
“Mitch Elder,” the man said. “What can I do for you?”
Ballard identified herself.
“Are you about to leave at the end of the tac alert?” she asked.
“Supposed to,” Elder said. “But…whaddaya got?”
It had been Ballard’s experience that gun nuts always liked a challenge.
“We had a homicide this morning. Gunshot. I have a casing and was looking for a make on the weapon used, maybe a NIBIN run.”
The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network was a database that stored characteristics of bullets and casings used in crimes. Each carried markings that could be matched to specific weapons and compared crime to crime. Casings were the better bet because bullets often fragmented or mushroomed on impact, making comparisons more difficult.
Ballard held up the clear evidence bag with the casing in it as bait. Elder’s eyes fixed on it. He didn’t take long.
“Well, let’s see what you got,” he said.
Ballard handed him the bag and then followed him to a workstation. He put on gloves, removed the casing, and studied it under a lighted magnifying glass. He turned it in his fingers, studying first the primer and then the rim for marks left by the weapon that had fired it.
“Good extractor marking,” he finally said. “I think you are looking for a Walther…but we’ll see. This will take a little time for me to encode. If you want to go get breakfast, I’ll be here when you get back.”
“No, I’m good,” Ballard said. “I have to make a call.”
“Then maybe we can get breakfast after we’re done.”
“Uh…I think I’ll probably need to keep moving with the case. But thanks.”
“I’m going to find an extra desk.”
She walked away, almost shaking her head. She was annoyed with herself for adding the thanks at the end of the rejection.
She found a workspace that was completely empty except for a phone on the desk. She pulled her phone and called Robinson-Reynolds, clearly waking him up.
“Ballard, what is it?”
He seemed annoyed.
“You told me to update you no matter the time.”
“I did. Whaddaya got?”
“I think our shooting was a homicide—a murder—and I want to stick with it.”
“Ballard, you know it needs to go to—”
“I know the protocol but West Bureau is running with a big media case and I think they would welcome me taking it off their hands—at least until they come up for air on the double they’ve got.”
“You’re not a homicide detective.”
“I know, but I was. I can handle this, L-T. We’ve already conducted witness interviews and I’ve been to Forensics and now I’m at Firearms running NIBIN on the shell we found.”
“You shouldn’t have done any of that. You should have turned it over as soon as you knew it wasn’t an accidental.”
“West Bureau was busy; I ran with it. We can turn it over now but they won’t jump on it, and hours and maybe days will go by before they do.”
“It’s not my call, Ballard. It’s their call. Lieutenant Fuentes over there.”
“Can you call him and grease this for me, L-T? He’ll probably be happy we want to take it off his hands.”
“There is no ‘we’ on this, Ballard. Besides, you are supposed to be off duty starting ten minutes ago. I got no overtime for you.”
“I’m not doing this for OT. No greenies on this.”
“Greenies” was a reference to the color of the 3 x 5 cards that had to be filled out and signed by a supervisor authorizing overtime work.
“No greenies?” Robinson-Reynolds asked.
“No greenies,” Ballard promised.
“What about the Midnight Men, and where is Moore in all of this? You are supposed to be working together.”
“She stayed at the station to start putting together the murder book and writing witness statements. Nothing came up on the Midnight Men but I’ll still be working that. I’m not dropping it.”
“Then that’s a lot of your plate.”
“I wouldn’t ask for this if I couldn’t handle my plate.”
There was a pause before Robinson-Reynolds made a decision.
“Okay, I’ll make the call to Fuentes. I’ll let you know.”
The lieutenant disconnected first and Ballard walked back over to Elder’s workstation. He was gone. She looked around and saw him sitting at a computer terminal by the window that looked out on the 10 Freeway. It meant he was on the NIBIN database. She walked over.
“Ballard, you’ve got something here,” Elder said.
“Really?” Ballard said. “What?”
“Another case. The bullet is linked to another case. Nine years ago up in the Valley. A guy got shot in a robbery. The shells match. Same gun was used.”
Ballard felt a cold finger go down her spine.
“What’s the case number?” she asked.
Elder dictated a number off the computer screen. Ballard grabbed a pen out of a cup next to the computer terminal and wrote the number on her hand.
“It’s an open case?” she asked.
“Open-unsolved,” Elder said. “An RHD case.”
Robbery-Homicide Division, Ballard’s old unit before she was unceremoniously shipped out to the late show in Hollywood. But nine years ago went back before her time there.
“Does it say there who the contact is?” she asked.
“It does but it’s out of date,” Elder says. “Says here the lead on it is Harry Bosch. But I knew him and he’s been retired a while.”
Ballard froze for just a moment before managing to speak.
“I know,” she then said.
Read more of The Dark Hours when it’s released on November 9, 2021.