The Night Fire: A Ballard and Bosch thriller (Harry Bosch 22) (7 page)

“Because I thought he was good at it. There are a few other things from my review that I want to go over. You want to meet?”

“I’m sort of in the middle of something today but I could meet for a few minutes. I’m close by.”

“Really? Where?”

“The Nickel Diner, you know it?”

“Of course. I’ll be there in ten.”

9

Ballard found Bosch in the back with his laptop open and several documents spread on a four-top table. It was apparently late enough in the day for the management to allow him to monopolize the spot. A plate with half a chocolate-frosted donut was on the table, assuring Ballard that Bosch was a paying customer rather than a freeloader who bought nothing but coffee and monopolized a table for hours.

She noticed the cane hooked over one of the empty chairs as she sat down. Assessing the documents that Bosch had started stacking when he noticed her approach, Ballard raised her hands palms up in a
What gives?
gesture.

“You’re the busiest retired guy I think I’ve ever seen.”

“Not really. I just said I’d take a quick look at this and then that would be it.”

Putting her backpack on the empty chair to her right, she caught a glimpse of the letterhead on one of the documents Bosch was clearing. It said “Michael Haller, Attorney-At-Law.”

“Oh, shit, you’re working for that guy?”

“What guy?”

“Haller. You work for him, you work for the devil.”

“Really? Why do you say that?”

“He’s a defense attorney. Not only that, but a good one. He gets people off that shouldn’t get off. Undoes what we do. How do you even know him?”

“Last thirty years, I’ve spent a lot of time in courthouses. So has he.”

“Is that the Judge Montgomery case?”

“How do you know about that?”

“Who doesn’t? Judge murdered in front of the courthouse—that’ll get some attention. Besides, I liked Judge Montgomery. When he was on a criminal bench I hit him up for warrants every now and then. He was a real stickler for the law. I remember this one time, the clerk let me go back to chambers to get a warrant signed and I go in there and look around and there’s no judge. Then I hear him say, ‘Out here.’ He had opened his window and climbed out onto the ledge to smoke a cigarette. Fourteen floors up. He said he didn’t want to break the rule about smoking in the building.”

Bosch put his stack of files on the empty chair to his right. But that wasn’t the end of it.

“I don’t know,” Ballard said. “I may have to reassess our … thing. I mean, if you’re going to be working for the other side.”

“I don’t work for the other side or the dark side or whatever you want to call it,” Bosch said. “This is a one-day thing and I actually volunteered for it. I was in court today and something didn’t add up right. I asked to look at the files and, as a matter of fact, did just find something before you walked in.”

“Something that helps the defense?”

“Something that I think the jury should know. Doesn’t matter who it helps.”

“Whoa, that’s the dark side talking right there. You’ve crossed over.”

“Look, did you come here to talk about the Montgomery case or the Hilton case?”

“Take it easy, Harry. I’m just busting your balls.”

She pulled her backpack over, unzipped it, and pulled out the Hilton murder book.

“Now, you went through this, right?” she asked.

“Yes, before giving it to you,” Bosch said.

“Well, a couple things.”

She reached into the backpack for the envelopes containing the ballistic evidence.

“I pulled the box at Property and checked out the bullet and the casing. As you said before, maybe we get lucky.”

“Good.”

“I also found this in the box.”

She went into the backpack again and came up with the notebook she had found in the property box. She handed it to Bosch.

“In the crime scene photos this was in the center console of the car. I think it was important to him.”

Bosch started flipping through the pages and looking at the sketches.

“Okay,” he said. “What else?”

“Well, that’s it from Property,” Ballard said. “But I think what I didn’t find there is worth noting, and it’s where you come into the picture.”

“You want to explain that?”

“John Jack Thompson never pulled the evidence in the case,” she said.

She read Bosch’s reaction as the same as hers. If Thompson was working the case, he would have pulled the box at Property and seen what he had.

“You sure?” Bosch asked.

“He’s not on the checkout list,” Ballard said. “I’m not sure he ever investigated this case—unless there’s more at his house.”

“Like what?”

“Like anything that shows he was investigating. Notes, recordings, maybe a second murder book. There’s no indication at all—not one added word—that indicates John Jack pulled this case to work it. It’s almost like he took the book so no one else would work it. So, you need to go back to his widow and see if there’s anything else. Anything that shows what he was doing with this.”

“I can go see Margaret tonight. But remember, we don’t know exactly when he took the murder book. Maybe he took it on his way out the door when he retired and then it was too late to get into Property. He had no badge.”

“But if you were going to take a book so you could work on it, wouldn’t you plan it so you could get to Property before you walked out the door?”

Bosch nodded.

“I guess so,” he said.

“Okay, so you go to Margaret and see about that,” Ballard said. “I made up a list of names from the book. People I want to talk to. I’m going to start running them down as soon as we’re finished here.”

“Can I see the list?”

“’Course.”

For the fourth time Ballard went into the backpack and this time pulled out her own notebook. She opened it and turned it around on the table so Bosch could read the list.

Maxwell Talis

Donald Hilton

Sandra Hilton

Thompson widow

Vincent Pilkey, dealer

Dennard Dorsey, dealer/snitch—protected

Brendan Sloan, narcotics

Elvin Kidd

Nathan Brazil, roommate

Bosch nodded as he looked at the names. Ballard took this to mean he was in agreement.

“Hopefully some of them are still alive. Sloan is still in the department, right?”

“Runs West Bureau. My boss, technically.”

“Then all you have to do is get around his adjutant.”

“That won’t be a problem. Are you going to eat the rest of that donut?”

“No. It’s all yours.”

Ballard grabbed the donut and took a bite. Bosch lifted his cane from the back of the other chair.

“I gotta get back to the courthouse,” he said. “Anything else?”

“Yes,” Ballard said, her mouth full. “Did you see this?”

She put the rest of the donut back on the plate, then opened the binder, unsnapped the rings, and handed Bosch the document she had moved to the front of the murder book.

“It’s redacted,” she said. “Who would black out lines in the statement from the parents?”

“I saw that too,” Bosch said. “It’s weird.”

“The whole book is confidential, why black anything out?”

“I know. I don’t get it.”

“And we don’t know who did it—whether it was Thompson or the original investigators. When you look at those two lines in context—the stepfather talking about adopting the boy—you have to wonder if they were protecting somebody. I’m going to try to run down Hilton’s birth certificate through Sacramento, but that will take forever because I don’t have his original name. That was probably redacted too.”

“I could try to run it down at Norwalk. Next time I go to see Maddie on a weekday.”

Norwalk was the site of Los Angeles County’s record archives. It was at the far south end of the county and with traffic could take an hour each way. Birth records were not accessible by computer to the public or law enforcement. Proper ID had to be shown to pull a birth certificate, especially one guarded by adoption rules.

“That’ll only work if Hilton was born in the county. But worth a try, I guess.”

“Well, one way or another we’ll figure it out. It’s a mystery for now.”

“What’s at the courthouse?”

“I want to see if I can get a subpoena. I want to get there before the judges all split.”

“Okay, I’ll let you go. So, you’ll go see Margaret Thompson later and I’ll run down these names. The ones that are still alive.”

Bosch stood up, holding the docs and his laptop under his arm. He didn’t have a briefcase. He hooked his cane back on the chair so he could reach into his pocket with his free hand.

“So, did you sleep yet today or just go right into this?”

“Yes, Dad, I slept.”

“Don’t call me that. Only one person can call me that and she never does.”

He pulled out some cash and left a twenty on the table, tipping as though there had been four people after all.

“How is Maddie?” Ballard asked.

“A little freaked out at the moment,” Bosch said.

“Why, what happened?”

“She’s got one semester to go down at Chapman and then she graduates. Three weeks ago some creep broke into the house she shares near the school with three other girls. It was a hot prowl. Two of the girls were there asleep.”

“Maddie?”

“No, she was up here with me because of my knee. Helping out, you know? But that doesn’t matter. They’re all freaked out. This guy, he wasn’t there to steal shit, you know, no money or anything taken. He left his semen on one of the girls’ laptops that was on the kitchen table. He was probably looking at photos of her on it when he did his thing. He’s obviously bent.”

“Oh, shit. Did they get a profile off it?”

“Yeah, a case-to-case hit. Same thing four months before. Hot prowl, girls from Chapman, and he left his DNA on a photo that was on the refrigerator. But no match to anybody in the database.”

“So did Maddie and the girls move out?”

“No, they’re all two months from graduation and don’t want to deal with moving. We put on extra locks, cameras inside and out. Alarm system. The local cops put the street on twice-by a shift. But they won’t move out.”

“So that freaks you the fuck out.”

“Exactly. Both hot prowls were on Saturday nights, so I’m thinking that’s this guy’s night out and maybe he’s going to come back. So I’ve been going down and sitting on the place the last two Saturday nights. Me and this knee. I sit in the back seat with my leg up across the seat. I don’t know what I’d do if I saw something but I’m there.”

“Hey, if you want company, I’m there too.”

“Thanks, that means a lot, but that’s my point. Don’t miss your sleep. I remember last year…”

“What about last year? You mean the case we worked?”

“Yeah. We both had sleep deprivation and it … affected things. Decisions.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Look, I don’t want to get into it. You can blame it on me. My decisions were affected, okay? Let’s just make sure we get sleep this time.”

“You worry about you and I’ll worry about me.”

“Got it. Sorry I even brought it up.”

He picked up his cane off the chair and headed toward the door. He was moving slow. Ballard realized she would look like an ass if she walked quickly ahead of him and then out.

“Hey, I’m going to hit the restroom,” she said. “Talk later?”

“Sure,” Bosch said.

“And I really mean that about your daughter. You need me, I’m there.”

“I know you mean it. Thanks.”

10

Ballard walked to the Police Administration Building so she could use a computer to run down some of the names on her list. This would be a routine stop for most detectives from the outer geographic stations. There were even desks and computers reserved for “visiting” detectives. But Ballard had to tread lightly. She had previously worked in the Robbery-Homicide Division located in the PAB and had left for the midnight shift at Hollywood Station under a cloud of suspicion and scandal. A complaint to Internal Affairs about her supervisor sexually harassing her led to an investigation that turned the Homicide Special unit upside down until the complaint was deemed unfounded and Ballard was sent off to Hollywood. There were those still in the PAB who did not believe her story, and those who viewed the infraction, even if true, as unworthy of an investigation that threatened a man’s career. There were enemies in the building, even four years later, and she tried to maintain her job without stepping through its glass doors. But to drive all the way from downtown to Hollywood just to use the department’s database would be a significant waste of time. If she wanted to keep momentum, she had to enter the PAB and find a computer she could use for a half hour.

She made it through the lobby and onto the elevator unscathed. On the fifth floor she avoided the vast homicide squad room and entered the much smaller Special Assault Section, where she knew a detective who had backed her through all the controversy and scandal. Amy Dodd was at her desk and smiled when she saw Ballard enter.

“Balls! What are you doing down here?”

Amy used a private nickname derived from the stand Ballard had made during the past troubles in RHD.

“Hey, Doddy. How’s it hanging? I’m looking for a computer to run names on.”

“I hear there are plenty of open desks in homicide since they trimmed the fat over there.”

“Last thing I want to do is set up in there. Might get stabbed in the back again.”

Amy pointed to the workstation next to hers.

“That one’s empty.”

Ballard hesitated and Amy read her.

“Don’t worry, I won’t talk your ear off. Do your work. I have court calls to make anyway.”

Ballard sat down and went to work, putting her password into the department database and then opening her notebook to the list of names from the Hilton case. She quickly located a driver’s license for Maxwell Talis in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, which was not a welcome piece of information. Yes, Talis was still alive, but Ballard was working this case on her own and with Bosch, not as an official LAPD investigation. An out-of-town trip was not in the equation. It meant she would have to reach Talis by phone. This was disappointing because face-to-face interviews were always preferable. Better tells and better reads came out of in-person sit-downs.

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