The Night Fire: A Ballard and Bosch thriller (Harry Bosch 22) (10 page)

“Mind if I look?”

“Go ahead.”

Bosch pulled the box down. It was heavy and it was sealed. He carried it over to the desk and used the scissors from the drawer to cut the tape stretched across the top of the box.

The box was filled with police documents but they were not contained in files or murder books. At first glance they appeared to be haphazardly stored, from multiple cases. Bosch started taking out thick sheaves of documents and putting them on the desk.

“This might take a while,” he said. “I need to look through these to see what they are and if they’re connected to the murder book.”

“I’ll leave you here so you can work,” Margaret said. “Would you like me to make some coffee, Harry?”

“Uh, no. But a glass of water would be good. My knee is swelling and I have to take a pill.”

“Did you overwork it?”

“Maybe. It’s been a long day.”

“I’ll go get your water.”

Bosch finished taking the documents out of the box and started going through them from what would have been at the bottom. It quickly became clear they had nothing to do with the John Hilton case. What Bosch had in front of him were copies of partial case records and arrest reports as well as state parole-board notifications. John Jack Thompson had been keeping tabs on the people he had sent to prison as a detective, writing letters of opposition to the parole board, and keeping track of when prisoners were released.

Margaret came back into the room with a glass of water. Bosch thanked her and reached into his pocket for a prescription bottle.

“I hope that’s not that oxycodone that’s in the paper all the time,” Margaret said.

“No, nothing that strong,” Bosch said. “Just to help with the swelling.”

“Are you finding anything?”

“In this? Not really. It looks like old records of the people he put in prison. Did he ever say he was afraid that one of them might come looking for him?”

“No, he never said that. I asked him about it a few times but he always said we had nothing to worry about. That the baddest people were never getting out.”

Bosch nodded.

“Probably true,” he said.

“Then I’ll leave you to it,” Margaret said.

After she left the room, Bosch considered the documents in front of him. He decided he wasn’t going to spend two hours looking at every piece of paper from the box. He was confident that the contents were unrelated to Hilton. He started checking through a final sampling of papers just to make sure and came across a copy of a sixty-day summary report on a murder case that he recognized.

The victim was a nineteen-year-old student at Los Angeles City College named Sarah Freelander. She was found raped and stabbed to death in the fall of 1982. She had disappeared somewhere between the school on the east side of the 101 freeway and her apartment on Sierra Vista on the west side of the freeway after attending a night class. Her apartment was thirteen blocks from the school and she commuted by bike. Her roommate reported her missing but she was young and there was no indication of foul play. The report was not taken seriously.

Thompson and Bosch were called in when her body and bike were found beneath a stand of trees that lined the elevated free-way beyond the outfield fence of a ballfield at the Lemon Grove Recreation Center.

The small park ran along Hobart Boulevard on the west side of the freeway and was equidistant from Melrose Avenue to the south and Santa Monica Boulevard to the north, the two streets with free-way underpasses that Sarah likely would have chosen between for her ride home from school. They worked the case hard and Bosch remembered coming to Jack’s home office to get away from the station to discuss ideas and possibilities. John Jack had the internal fire going. Something about the dead girl pierced him and he had promised her parents he would find the killer. That was when Bosch first saw the fierceness his mentor brought to the job and to his search for the truth.

But they never cleared the case. They found a credible witness who saw Sarah on her bike riding toward the Melrose underpass but never were able to pick up her trail on the other side. They keyed on a fellow LACC student who had been rejected a month before when he asked Sarah for a second date. But they never broke him or his alibi, and the case eventually went nowhere. Yet John Jack always carried it with him. Even when their partnership was long over and Bosch would run into him at a retirement party or a training session, John Jack would bring up Sarah Freelander and the disappointment of not finding her killer. He still thought it was the other student.

Bosch put the summary back in the box and used the packing tape from the desk drawer to reseal it. He returned it to its place in the closet and left the room. He found Margaret sitting in the living room staring at the flames of a gas-powered fireplace.

“Margaret, thank you.”

“You didn’t find anything?”

“No, and there’s no other place in the house where he would have kept anything regarding the murder book, right? Anything in the garage?”

“I don’t think so. He kept tools in the garage and fishing poles. But you’re welcome to look.”

Bosch just nodded. He didn’t think there was anything here to find. Ballard might have been right: John Jack hadn’t taken the murder book to work it. There was something else.

“I don’t think I need to,” he said. “I’m going to go but I’ll circle back if anything comes up. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Margaret said. “I just get a little wistful and a little teary at night. I miss him.”

She was all alone. John Jack and Margaret had not had children. John Jack had once told Bosch he could not bring a child into the world he saw as a law officer.

“Of course,” Bosch said. “I understand. If you don’t mind, I’ll check in on you from time to time, see if you need anything.”

“That’s nice, Harry. In a way, you’re the closest we got to having a son. John Jack didn’t want us to have our own. Now I’m left alone.”

Bosch didn’t know what to say to that.

“Well, uh, if you need anything, you call me,” he mumbled. “Day or night. I’ll let myself out and lock the door.”

“Thank you, Harry.”

Back in his car, Bosch sat there and decompressed for a few minutes before calling Ballard to tell her that Thompson’s home office was a dead end.

“Nothing at all?”

“Not even a scratch pad. I think you’re right: he didn’t take the book to work it. He just didn’t want anyone else to work it.”

“But why?”

“That’s the question.”

“So, what are you doing tomorrow? Want to go with me out to Rialto?”

“I can’t. I have court in the morning. I might be able to go later. But what’s in Rialto? That’s a drive.”

“Elvin Kidd, the Rolling 60s street boss who told his dealers to clear the alley on the day Hilton got killed.”

“How’d you get that?”

“From the snitch Hunter and Talis didn’t get the chance to interview back in 1990.”

“Wait till I’m clear, then we go see him.”

There was a hesitation.

“You shouldn’t go out there without backup,” Bosch said.

“The guy’s like sixty and out of the game,” Ballard said. “Rialto’s two hours and a world away from South L.A. It’s where bangers go when they quit the streets.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’ll call you when I clear, then we go out. Maybe you should get some sleep until then.”

“Can’t. I’m going to check out the ballistics first thing tomorrow.”

“Then go home, wherever and whatever home is, and sleep.”

“Yes, Dad.”

“I told you about that.”

“I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll stop calling you ‘Dad’ and you stop telling me to ‘get some sleep.’”

“Okay, deal.”

“Have a nice night, Harry.”

“You too. Let me know about the ballistics tomorrow.”

“Will do.”

She disconnected. Bosch started the Jeep and headed home.

BALLARD
14

Ballard sat in on the third-watch roll call but there was no requirement for her skills at the start of her shift. No follow-ups, no interviews, no subpoena deliveries, not even a wellness check. Afterward, she went down to the empty detective bureau, picked a desk, and set up her radio, leaving it on the jazz station Bosch programmed. She settled in for some computer work, and started running deep background checks on Elvin Kidd and Nathan Brazil.

She learned that Kidd owned a home valued at $600,000 and ran a building business called Kidd Construction, specializing in commercial renovation projects. The contractor’s license was in the name of Cynthia Kidd. Ballard guessed this was his wife, whose name was used to get around the fact that he had a criminal record.

It looked to Ballard, at least on the surface of things, that at some point Kidd had broken away from gang life and had chosen the straight life. Kidd Construction was first licensed by the state in 2002, twelve years after the murder of John Hilton.

Ballard pulled up a photo of Kidd’s home on Google Maps and studied it for a few moments. It looked like the ideal picture of suburban life: gray with white trim, two-car garage. The only thing missing was a white picket fence out front. She noticed a pickup in the driveway with an equipment trailer hooked to it. The name of a business was painted on the side of the trailer, but it had been blurred out by Google. Ballard had no doubt that it said
KIDD CONSTRUCTION
. This made her pull up the address on the contractor’s license and she determined that it was a single-bay storage unit. So maybe Kidd ran his business out of his home and his business wasn’t killing it financially. But he still had the house that had a single mortgage on it, and the pickup truck looked like it was only a year or two old. It wasn’t bad for a guy who had spent two stints in state prison before he was thirty years old. Now sixty-two, he was one of the lucky few who had made it out alive.

Nathan Brazil was another story. Ballard found two bankruptcies on his record and a string of eviction actions taken against him over the prior twenty-five years. She also found a rental application online that listed him as working in the food service industry, which she took to mean he was most likely a waiter, a bartender, or maybe a chef. A reference on the application—which was from 2012—was the general manager of a Tex-Mex restaurant in West Hollywood called Marix. Ballard had dined there frequently when, years earlier, she had lived in the area. It was the place to go for margaritas and fajitas. She wondered if she had ever been served by Brazil, even though she did not recognize him in the driver’s license photo she had pulled up.

The Google Maps photo Ballard found for what she believed was Brazil’s current address was of a ’50s postmodern apartment house on Sweetzer. A single level of apartments over an open parking garage, the place looked worn and long out of style, its facade blemished by tenant-only parking signs slapped on the yellowed plaster.

As she was printing out screenshots of her search, Ballard’s cell phone buzzed. The screen said
UNKNOWN CALLER
. She took the call.

“This is Max Talis. You left me a message.”

Ballard checked the wall clock and was surprised. She had left the message for Talis four hours earlier. She wasn’t sure if there was a time difference between L.A. and Idaho, but his calling back after midnight seemed strange for a retired man.

“Yes, Detective, thank you for calling me back.”

“Let me guess, this is about Biggie?”

“Biggie? No, it’s not. I—”

“That’s what I get called about most of the time. I only had the case twenty minutes and then the big boys took over. But I still get calls ’cause I’m in the files.”

Ballard assumed he was talking about Biggie Smalls, the rapper whose murder in the ’90s was still officially unsolved but had been the subject of countless media reports, documentaries, and based-on-a-true-story movies. It was one of a long line of L.A. murders that captured the public imagination, when in reality it had been a street killing not that much different from the killing of John Hilton: a man shot to death in the front seat of his car.

In her message, Ballard had not mentioned the case she wanted to talk to Talis about because it might have given him a reason not to call.

“Actually, I want to talk to you about John Hilton,” she said now.

There was a pause before Talis replied.

“John Hilton,” he said. “You need to help me out with that one.”

Ballard gave the date of the murder.

“White male, twenty-four, shot once in his Toyota Corolla in a drug alley off of Melrose,” she added. “One behind the ear. You and Hunter caught it. I just inherited it.”

“Wow, yeah, ‘Hilton’ like the hotel. I remember now we got that ID and thought,
I hope this guy isn’t related
, you know? Then we’d have a media firestorm on our hands.”

“So you remember the case?”

“I don’t remember everything but I remember that we never got anywhere with it. Just a street robbery gone bad, you know? Drug-related, gang-related—hard to clear.”

“There are aspects of it that make it look different to me. Are you okay to talk now? I know it’s late.”

“Yeah, I’m at work. I got plenty of time.”

“Really? What do you do?”

“You said on the message you work the midnight shift. We used to call that the late show. Anyway, I’m the same. Night watchman. The late show.”

“Really. What kind of place is it?”

“It’s just a truck stop. I got bored, you know? So I’m out here three nights a week, keepin’ the peace—and keeping the piece, if you know what I mean.”

He was an armed security guard. To Ballard it seemed like a steep fall from LAPD homicide detective.

“Well, I hope you stay safe,” she said. “Can I ask you about the Hilton case?”

“You can ask,” Talis said. “But I’m not sure I’m going to remember anything.”

“Let’s see. My first question is about the murder book. The summary report with the victim’s parents has a couple lines blacked out. I’m wondering why that happened and what was blacked out.”

“You mean like on the page, somebody blacked it out?”

“That’s right. It wasn’t you or Hunter?”

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