The Drop Excerpt
Christmas came once a month in the Open-Unsolved Unit. That was when the lieutenant made her way around the squad room like Santa Claus, parceling out the assignments like presents to the squad’s six detective teams. The cold hits were the lifeblood of the unit. The teams didn’t wait for call outs and fresh kills in Open-Unsolved. They waited for cold hits.
The Open-Unsolved Unit investigated unsolved murders going back fifty years in Los Angeles. There were twelve detectives, a secretary, a squad room supervisor known as the whip and the lieutenant. And there were ten thousand cases. The first five detective teams split up the fifty years, each pair taking ten randomly chosen years. Their task was to pull all the unsolved homicide cases from their assigned years out of archives, evaluate them and submit long stored and forgotten evidence for re-analysis with contemporary technology. All DNA submissions were handled by the new regional lab out at Cal-State. When DNA from an old case was matched to an individual whose genetic profile was carried in any of the nation’s DNA databases it was called a cold hit. The lab put cold hit notices in the mail at the end of every month. They would arrive a day or two later at the Police Administration Building in downtown Los Angeles. Usually by 8 a.m. that day, the lieutenant would open the door of her private office and enter the squad room. She carried the envelopes in her hand. Each hit sheet was mailed individually in a yellow business envelope. Generally, the envelopes were handed to the same detectives who had submitted the DNA evidence to the lab. But sometimes there were too many cold hits for one team to handle at once. Sometimes detectives were in court or on vacation or leave. And sometimes the cold hits revealed circumstances that required the utmost finesse and experience. That was where the sixth team came in. Detectives Harry Bosch and David Chu were the sixth team. They were floaters. They handled overflow cases and special investigations.
On Monday morning, October 3rd, Lieutenant Gail Duvall stepped out of her office and into the squad room carrying only three yellow envelopes. Harry Bosch almost sighed at the sight of such a paltry return on the squad’s DNA submissions. He knew that with so few envelopes he would not be getting a new case to work.
Bosch had been back in the unit for almost a year following a two-year reassignment to Homicide Special. But coming back for his second tour of duty in Open-Unsolved, he had quickly fallen into the rhythm of the squad. It wasn’t a fly squad. There was no dashing out the door to get to a crime scene. In fact, there were no crime scenes. There were only files and archive boxes. It was primarily an eight to four gig with an asterisk, that asterisk being that there was more travel than with other detective squads. People who got away with murder, or at least thought they had, tended not to stick around. They moved elsewhere and often the OU detectives had to travel to retrieve them.
A big part of the rhythm was the monthly cycle of waiting for the yellow envelopes to come out. Sometimes Bosch found it hard to sleep during the nights leading up to Christmas. He never took time off during the first week of the month and never came to work late if there was a chance that the yellow envelopes were in. Even his teenage daughter noticed his monthly cycle of anticipation and agitation, and had likened it to a menstrual cycle. Bosch didn’t see the humor in this and was embarrassed when she brought it up.
Now his disappointment at the sight of so few envelopes in the lieutenant’s hand was something palpable in his throat. He wanted a new case. He needed a new case. He needed to see the look on the killer’s face when he knocked on the door and showed his badge, the embodiment of unexpected justice come calling after so many years. It was addictive and Bosch was craving it now.
The lieutenant handed the first envelope to Rick Jackson. He and his partner, Rich Bengtson, were solid investigators who had been with the unit since its inception. Bosch had no complaint there. The next envelope was placed on an empty desk belonging to Teddy Baker. She and her partner, Greg Kehoe, were on their way back from a pickup in Tampa, Florida — an airline pilot who had been connected through fingerprints to the 1991 strangulation of a flight attendant in Brentwood.
Bosch was about to suggest to the lieutenant that Baker and Kehoe might have their hands full with the Brentwood case and that the envelope should be given to another team, namely his, when the lieutenant looked at him and used the last remaining envelope to beckon him to her office.
“Can you guys step in for a minute? You, too, Tim.”
Tim Marcia was the squad whip, the detective three who handled mostly supervisory and fill-in duties in the squad. He mentored the young detectives and made sure the old ones like Jackson and Bosch didn’t get lazy.
Bosch was up out of his seat before the lieutenant had finished her question. He headed toward the lieutenant’s office with Chu and Marcia trailing behind.
“Close the door,” Duvall said. “Sit down.”
Duvall had a corner office with windows that looked across Spring Street at the Los Angeles Times building. Paranoid that reporters were watching from the newsroom across the way, Duvall kept her blinds permanently closed. It made the office dim and cave-like. Bosch and Chu took the two seats positioned in front of the lieutenant’s desk. Marcia followed them in, moved to the side of Duvall’s desk and leaned against an old evidence safe.
“I want you two to handle this hit,” she said, proffering the yellow envelope to Bosch. “There’s something wrong there and I want you to keep quiet about it until you find out what it is. Keep Tim in the loop but keep it low key.”
The envelope had already been opened. Chu leaned over to look as Harry opened the flap and pulled out the hit sheet. It listed the case number for which DNA evidence had been submitted, plus the name, age, last known address and criminal history of the person whose genetic profile matched it. Bosch first noticed that the case number had an 89 prefix, meaning it was a case from 1989. There were no details about the crime, just the year. But Bosch knew that 1989 cases belonged to the team of Ross Shuler and Adriana Dolan. He knew this because 1989 had been a busy year for him working murders for the Homicide Special team and he had recently checked on one of his own unsolved cases, learning that jurisdiction over cases from that year belonged to Shuler and Dolan. They were known in the unit as “the kids.” They were young, passionate and very skillful investigators, but between them they had less than eight years’ experience working homicides. If there was something unusual about this cold hit, it would not be surprising that the lieutenant would want Bosch on it. Bosch had worked more killings than everybody in the unit combined. That is, if you took out Jackson. He had been around forever.
Bosch next studied the name on the hit sheet. Clayton S. Pell. It meant nothing to him. But Pell’s record included numerous arrests and three separate convictions for indecent exposure, false imprisonment and forcible rape. He had spent six years in prison for the rape before being released eighteen months earlier. He had a five-year probation tail and his last known address came from the state probation and parole board. He was living at a halfway house for sexual offenders in Panorama City.
Based on Pell’s record, Bosch believed the 1989 case was likely a sex-related murder. He could feel his insides beginning to tighten. He was going to go out and grab Clayton Pell and bring him to justice.
“Do you see it?” Duvall asked.
“See what?” Bosch asked. “Was this a sex killing? This guy has the classic pred — ”
“The birth date,” Duvall said.
Bosch looked back down at the hit sheet as Chu leaned over further.
“Yeah, right here,” Bosch said. “November nine, nineteen eighty-one. What’s that got — ”
“He’s too young,” Chu said.
Bosch glanced at him and then back down at the sheet. He suddenly got it. Clayton Pell was born in 1981. He was only eight years old at the time of the murder on the hit sheet.
“Exactly,” Duvall said. “So I want you to get the book and box from Shuler and Dolan and very quietly figure out what we have here. I’m hoping to God they didn’t get two cases mixed up.”
Bosch knew that if Shuler and Dolan had somehow sent in genetic material from the old case labeled under a more recent case then both cases would be tainted beyond any hope of prosecution.
“As you were about to say,” Duvall continued, “this guy on the hit sheet is no doubt a predator, but I don’t think he got away with a killing when he was only eight years old. So something doesn’t fit. Find it and come back to me before you do anything. If they screwed up and we can correct it, then we won’t need to worry about IAD or anybody else. We’ll just keep it right here.”
She may have appeared to be trying to protect Shuler and Dolan from Internal Affairs, but she was also protecting herself and Bosch knew it. There would not be much vertical movement in the department for a lieutenant who had presided over an evidence handling scandal in her own unit.
“What other years are assigned to Shuler and Dolan?” Bosch asked.
“On the recent side, they’ve got ninety-seven and two-thousand,” Marcia said. “This could have come from a case they were working from one of those two years.”
Bosch nodded. He could see the scenario. The reckless handling of genetic evidence from one case cross-pollinates with another. The end result would be two tainted cases and scandal that would splash anybody near it.
“What do we say to Shuler and Dolan?” Chu asked. “What’s the reason we’re taking the case off them?”
Duvall looked up at Marcia for an answer.
“They’ve got a trial coming up,” he offered. “Jury selection starts Thursday.”
“I’ll tell them I want them clear for that.”
“And what if they say they still want the case?” Chu asked. “What if they say they can handle it?”
“I’ll put them straight,” Duvall said. “Anything else, Detectives?”
Bosch looked up at her.
“We’ll work the case, Lieutenant, and see what’s what. But I don’t investigate other cops.”
“That’s fine. I’m not asking you to. Work the case and tell me how the DNA came back to an eight-year-old kid, okay?”
Bosch nodded and started to stand up.
“Just remember,” Duvall added, “you talk to me before you do anything with what you learn.”
“You got it,” Bosch said.
They were about to leave the room.
“Harry,” the lieutenant said. “Hang back a second.”
Bosch looked at Chu and raised his eyebrows. He didn’t know what this was about. The lieutenant came around from behind her desk and closed the door after Chu and Marcia had left. She stayed standing and businesslike.
“I just wanted you to know that your application for an extension on your DROP came through. They gave you four years retroactive.”
Bosch looked at her, doing the math. He nodded. He had asked for the maximum — five years non-retroactive — but he’d take what they gave. It wouldn’t keep him much past high school but it was better than nothing.
“Well, I’m glad,” Duvall said. “It gives you thirty-nine more months with us.”
Her tone indicated that she had read disappointment in his face.
“No,” he said quickly. “I’m glad. I was just thinking about where that would put me with my daughter. It’s good. I’m happy.”
That was her way of saying the meeting was over. Bosch thanked her and left the office. As he stepped back into the squad room he looked across the vast expanse of desks and dividers and file cabinets. He knew it was home and that he would get to stay — for now.
The Open-Unsolved Unit shared access to the three fifth-floor conference rooms with all other units in the Robbery-Homicide Division. Usually detectives had to reserve time in one of the rooms, signing on the clipboard hooked on the door. But this early on a Monday all of them were open and Bosch, Chu, Shuler and Dolan commandeered the smallest room without making a reservation.
They brought with them the murder book and the small archival evidence box from the 1989 case.
“Okay,” Bosch said, when everyone was seated. “So you are cool with us running with this case? If you’re not, we can go back to the lieutenant and say you really want to work it.”
“No, it’s okay,” Shuler said. “We’re both involved in the trial so it’s better this way. It’s our first case in the unit and we want to see it through to that guilty verdict.”
Bosch nodded as he casually opened the murder book.
“You want to give us the rundown on this one then?”
Shuler gave Dolan a nod and she began to summarize the 1989 case as Bosch flipped through the pages of the binder.
“We have a nineteen-year-old victim named Lily Price. Student from Ohio, good all around kid. She was snatched off the street while walking home from the beach to her apartment in Venice on a Sunday afternoon. At the time, they narrowed the grab point down to the vicinity of Speedway and Voyage. Price lived on Voyage with three roommates. One was with her on the beach and two were in the apartment. She disappeared between those two points. She said she was going back to use the bathroom and she never made it.”
“She left her towel and a Walkman on the beach,” Shuler said. “Sunscreen. So it was clear she was intending to come back. She never did. And her two roommates in the apartment said she never showed up there either.”
“Her body was found the next morning on the rocks down at the cut,” Dolan said. “She was naked and had been raped and strangled. Her clothes were never found. The ligature was removed.”
Bosch flipped through several plastic pages containing faded Polaroid shots of the crime scene. Looking at the victim, he couldn’t help but think of his own daughter, who at fifteen had a full life in front of her. There had been a time when looking at photos like this fueled him, gave him the fire he needed to be relentless. But since Maddie had come to live with him, it was increasingly difficult for him to look at victims.
It didn’t stop him from building the fire, however.
“Where did the DNA come from?” he asked. “Semen?”
“No, the killer used a condom or didn’t ejaculate,” Dolan said. “No semen.”
“It came from a small smear of blood,” Shuler said. “It was found on her neck, right below the right ear. She had no wounds in that area. It was assumed that it had come from the killer, that he had been cut or maybe was already bleeding. It was just a drop. A smear, really. She was strangled with a ligature. If she was strangled from behind then his hand could have been against her neck there. If there was a cut on his hand . . . ”
“Transfer deposit,” Chu said.
Bosch found the Polaroid that showed the victim’s neck and the smear of blood. The photo was washed out by time and he could barely see the blood. A ruler had been placed on the girl’s neck so that the blood smear could be measured in the photo. It was less than an inch long.
“So this blood was collected and stored,” he said, a statement meant to draw further explanation.
“Yes,” Shuler said. “Because it was a smear it was swabbed. Back then, they typed it. O-positive. The swab was stored in a tube and we found it still in Property when we pulled the case. The blood had turned to powder.”
He tapped the top of the archive box with a pen.
Bosch’s phone started to vibrate in his pocket. Normally, he would let the call go to message, but his daughter was home sick from school and alone. He needed to make sure she wasn’t calling. He pulled the phone out of his pocket and glanced at the screen. It wasn’t his daughter. It was a former partner, Kizmin Rider, now a lieutenant assigned to the OCP — office of the chief of police. He decided he would return her call after the meeting. They had lunch together about once a month and he assumed she was free today, or calling because she’d heard about his DROP application getting approved. He shoved the phone back into his pocket.
“Did you open the tube?” he asked.
“Of course not,” Shuler said.
“Okay, so four months ago you sent the tube containing the swab and what was left of the blood out to the regional lab, right?” he asked.
“That’s right,” Shuler said.
Bosch flipped through the murder book to the autopsy report. He was acting like he was more interested in what he was seeing than what he was saying.
“And at that time, did you submit anything else to the lab?”
“From the Price case?” Dolan asked. “No, that was the only biological evidence they came up with back at the time.”
Bosch nodded, hoping she would keep talking.
“But back then it didn’t lead to anything,” she said. “They never came up with a suspect. Who’d they come up with on the cold hit?”
“We’ll get to that in a second,” Bosch said. “What I meant was, did you submit to the lab from any other cases you were working? Or was this all you had going?”
“No, that was it,” Shuler said, his eyes squinting in suspicion. “What’s going on here, Harry?”
Bosch reached into his inside coat pocket and pulled out the hit sheet. He slid it across the table to Shuler.
“The hit comes back to a sexual predator who would look real good for this except for one thing.”
Shuler unfolded the sheet and he and Dolan leaned together to read it, just as Bosch and Chu had earlier.
“What’s that?” Dolan said, not picking up on the significance of the birth date yet. “This guy looks perfect.”
“He’s perfect now,” Bosch said. “But back then he was only eight years old.”
“You’re kidding.” Dolan said.
“What the fuck?” Shuler added.
Dolan pulled the sheet away from her partner as if to see it clearer and to double-check the birth date. Shuler leaned back and looked at Bosch with those suspicious eyes.
“So you think we fucked up and mixed up cases,” he said.
“Nope,” Bosch said. “The lieutenant asked us to check out the possibility but I don’t see any fuck up on this end.”
“So it happened at the lab,” Shuler said. “Do you realize that if they screwed things up at regional every defense lawyer in the county is going to be able to raise doubt about DNA matches that come out of there?”
“Yeah, I kind of figure that,” Bosch said. “Which is why you should keep this under your hats until we know what happened. There are other possibilities.”
Dolan held up the hit sheet.
“Yeah, what if there is no fuck up anywhere in the line? What if it’s really this kid’s blood on that dead girl?”
“An eight-year-old boy snatches a nineteen-year-old girl off the street, rapes and strangles her and dumps the body four blocks away?” Chu asked. “Never happened.”
“Well, maybe he was there,” Dolan said. “Maybe this was how he got his start as a predator. You see his record. This guy fits — except for his age.”
“Maybe,” he said. “As I said, there are other possibilities. No reason to panic yet.”
His phone started to vibrate again. He pulled it and saw it was Kiz Rider again. Two calls in five minutes, he decided he’d better take it. This wasn’t about lunch.
“I have to step out for a second.”
He got up and answered the call as he stepped out of the conference room into the hallway.
“Harry, I’ve been trying to get to you with a heads-up.”
“I’m in a meeting. What heads-up?”
“You are about to get a forthwith from the OCP.”
“You want me to come up to ten?”
In the new PAB, the chief’s suite of offices was on the tenth floor, complete with a private courtyard balcony that looked out across the civic center.
“No, Sunset Strip. You’re going to be told to go to a scene and take over a case. And you’re not going to like it.”
“Look, Lieutenant, I just got a case this morning. I don’t need another one.”
He thought that using her formal title would communicate his wariness. Forthwiths and assignments out of the OCP always carried high jingo — political overtones. It was sometimes hard to navigate your way through it.
“He’s not going to give you a choice here, Harry.”
He being the chief of police.
“What’s the case?”
“A jumper at the Chateau Marmont.”
“Who was it?”
“Harry, I think you should wait for the chief to call you. I just wanted to —”
“Who was it, Kiz? If you know anything about me I think you know I can keep a secret until it’s no longer a secret.”
She paused before answering.
“From what I understand there is not a lot that is recognizable — he came down seven floors onto concrete. But the initial ID is George Thomas Irving. Age forty-six of eight —”
“Irving as in Irvin Irving? As in Councilman Irvin Irving?”
Bosch knew that a case that had involved the OCP so quickly had to have political overtones. The name Irving now made that connection obvious.
“Yes, one and the same,” Rider said. “Scourge of the LAPD in general and one Detective Harry Bosch in particular. It’s his son and Councilman Irving has insisted to the chief that you take over the investigation. The chief said no problem.”
Bosch paused with his mouth open for a moment before responding.
“Why does Irving want me? He’s spent most of his careers in police and politics trying to end mine.”
“This I don’t know, Harry. I only know that he wants you.”
“When did this come in?”
“The call came in at about five-forty-five this morning. My understanding is that it is unclear when it actually happened.”
Bosch checked his watch. The case was more than three hours old. That was quite late to be coming into a death investigation. He’d be starting out at a disadvantage.
“What’s to investigate?” he asked. “You said it was a jumper.”
“Hollywood originally responded and were going to wrap it up as a suicide. The councilman arrived and is not ready to sign off on that. That’s why he wants you.”
“And does the chief understand that I have a history with Irving that —”
“Yes, he does. He also understands that he needs every vote he can get on the council if we ever want to get overtime flowing to the department again.”
Bosch saw his boss, Lieutenant Duvall, enter the hallway from the Open-Unsolved Unit’s door. She made a There you are! gesture and started toward him.
“Looks like I’m about to get the official word,” Bosch said into the phone. “Thanks for the warning, Kiz. Doesn’t make any sense to me, but thanks. If you hear anything else, let me know.”
“Harry, you be careful with this. Irving’s old but he’s still got teeth.”
“I know that.”
“Keep in touch.”
“You got it.”
Bosch closed his phone just as Duvall got to him, holding out a piece of paper.
“Sorry, Harry, change of plans. You and Chu need to go to this address and take a live case.”
“What are you talking about?”
Bosch looked at the address. It was the Chateau Marmont.
“Orders from the chief’s office. You and Chu are to proceed code three and take over a case. That’s all I know. That and that the chief himself is there waiting.”
“What about the case you just gave us?”
“Move it to the back burner for now. I want you on it, but just get to it when you can.”
She pointed to the piece of paper in his hand.
“That’s the priority.”
“You sure about this, Lieutenant?”
“Of course I’m sure. The chief called me directly and he’s going to call you. So grab Chu and get going.”