The Concrete Blonde Excerpt
The house on Silverlake was dark, its windows as empty as a dead man’s eyes. It was an old California Craftsman with a full front porch and two dormer windows set on the long slope of the roof. But no light shone behind the glass, not even from above the doorway. Instead, the house cast a foreboding darkness about it that not even the glow from the streetlight could penetrate. A man could be standing there on the porch and Bosch knew he probably wouldn’t be able to see him.
“You sure this is it?” he asked her.
“Not the house,” she said. “Behind it. The garage. Pull up so you can see down the drive.”
Bosch tapped the gas pedal and the Caprice moved forward and crossed the entrance to the driveway.
“There,” she said.
Bosch stopped the car. There was a garage behind the house with an apartment above it. Wooden staircase up the side, light over the door. Two windows, lights on inside.
“Okay,” Bosch said.
They stared at the garage for several moments. Bosch didn’t know what he expected to see. Maybe nothing. The whore’s perfume was filling the car and he rolled the window down. He didn’t know whether to trust her claim or not. The one thing he knew he couldn’t do was call for backup. He hadn’t brought a rover with him and the car was not equipped with a phone.
“What are you going—there he goes!” she said urgently.
Bosch had seen it, the shadow of a figure crossing behind the smaller window. The bathroom, he guessed.
“He’s in the bathroom,” she said. “That’s where I saw all the stuff.”
Bosch looked away from the window and at her.
“I, uh, checked the cabinet. You know, when I was in there. Just looking to see what he had. A girl has to be careful. And I saw all the stuff. Makeup shit. You know, mascara, lipsticks, compacts and stuff. That’s how I figured it was him. He used all that stuff to paint ’em when he was done, you know, killing them.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that on the phone?’
“You didn’t ask.”
He saw the figure pass behind the curtains of the other window. Bosch’s mind was racing now, his heart jacking up into its overdrive mode.
“How long ago was this that you ran out of there?”
“Shit, I don’t know. I hadda walk down to Franklin just to find a fucking ride over to the Boulevard. I was with the ride ’bout ten minutes. So I don’t know.”
“Guess. It’s important.”
“I don’t know. It’s been more than an hour.”
Shit, Bosch thought. She stopped to turn a trick before she called the task force numbers. Showed a lot of genuine concern there. Now there could be a replacement up there and I’m sitting out here watching.
He gunned the car up the street and found a space in front of a hydrant. He turned off the engine but left the keys in the ignition. After he jumped out he stuck his head back in through the open window.
“Listen, I’m going up there. You stay here. If you hear shots, or if I’m not back here in ten minutes, you start knocking on doors and get some cops out here. Tell them an officer needs assistance. There’s a clock on the dash. Ten minutes.”
“Ten minutes, baby. You go be the hero now. But I’m getting that reward.”
Bosch pulled his gun as he hurried down the driveway. The stairs up the side of the garage were old and warped. He took them three at a time, as quietly as he could. But still it felt as if were shouting his arrival to the world. At the top, he raised the gun and broke the bare bulb that was in place over the door. Then, he leaned back into the darkness, against the outside railing. He raised his left leg and put all his weight and momentum into his heel. He struck the door over the knob.
The door swung open with a loud crack. In a crouch, Bosch moved through the threshold in the standard combat stance. Right away he saw the man across the room, standing on the other side of a bed. The man was naked and not only bald but completely hairless. His vision locked on the man’s eyes and he saw the look of terror quickly fill them. Bosch yelled, his voice high and taut.
“COPS! DON”T FUCKING MOVE!”
The man froze, but only for a beat, and then began bending down, his right arm reaching for the pillow. He hesitated once and then continued the movement. Bosch couldn’t believe it. What the fuck was he doing? Time went into suspension. The adrenaline pounding through his body gave his vision a slow-motion clarity. Bosch knew the man was either reaching for the pillow for something to cover himself with, or he was—
The hand swept under the pillow.
“DON’T DO IT!”
The hand was closing on something beneath the pillow. The man had never taken his eyes off Bosch. Then Bosch realized it wasn’t terror in his eyes. It was something else. Anger? Hate? The hand was coming out from beneath the pillow now.
Bosch fired one shot, his gun kicking up in his two-handed grasp. The naked man jerked upright and backward. He hit the wood-paneled wall behind him, then bounced forward and fell across the bed thrashing and gagging. Bosch quickly moved into the room and to the bed.
The man’s left hand was reaching again for the pillow. Bosch brought his left leg up and knelt on his back, pinning him to the bed. He pulled the cuffs off his belt and grabbed the groping left hand and cuffed it. Then the right. Behind the back. The naked man was gagging and moaning,
“I can’t — I can’t,” he said, but his statement was lost in a bloody coughing fit.
“You can’t do what I told you,” Bosch said. ” I told you not to move!”
Just die, man, Bosch thought but didn’t say. It will be easier for all of us.
He moved around the bed to the pillow. He lifted it, stared at what was beneath it for a few moments and then dropped it. He closed his eyes for a moment.
“Goddammit!” he called at the back of the naked man’s head. ”What were you doing? I had a fucking gun and you, you reach—I told you not to move!”
Bosch came around the bed so he could see the man’s face. Blood was emptying from his mouth onto the dingy white sheet. Bosch knew his bullet had hit the lungs. The naked man was the dying man now.
“You didn’t have to die,” Bosch said to him.
Then the man was dead.
Bosch looked around the room. There was no one else. No replacement for the whore who had run. He had been wrong on that guess. He went into the bathroom and opened the cabinet beneath the sink. The makeup was there, as the whore had said. Bosch recognized some of the brand names. Max Factor, L’Oreal, Cover Girl, Revlon. It all seemed to fit.
He looked back through the bathroom door at the corpse on the bed. There was still the smell of gunpowder in the air. He lit a cigarette and it was so quiet in the place that he could hear the crisp tobacco burn as he dragged the soothing smoke into his lungs.
There was no phone in the apartment. Bosch sat on a chair in the kitchenette and waited. Staring across the room at the body, he realized that his heart was still pounding rapidly and that he felt lightheaded. He also realized that he felt nothing — not sympathy or guilt or sorrow — for the man on the bed. Nothing at all.
Instead, he tried to concentrate on the sound of the siren that was now sounding in the distance and coming closer. After a while, he was able to discern that it was more than one siren. It was many.