Authors: Michael Connelly
The news did not get any better as she moved down her list. She determined that both Sandra and Donald Hilton were dead. They had passed—Donald in 2007 and Sandra in 2016—without knowing who had killed their son or why, without any justice for his life and their loss. To Ballard it didn’t matter that John Hilton had been a drug addict and criminal. He had talent and with that he had to have had dreams. Dreams of a way out of the life he was trapped in. It made Ballard feel that if she didn’t find justice for him, no one ever would.
Next on the list was Margaret Thompson and Bosch was handling that. Vincent Pilkey was the next name and it was another dead end. Pilkey was one of the dealers whom Hunter and Talis never connected with to interview, and now she never would either: Pilkey was listed as deceased in 2008. He was only forty-one at the time and Ballard assumed he met an untimely death by violence or overdose, but she could not determine it from the records she was accessing.
Ballard’s luck changed with the next name down: Dennard Dorsey, the dealer Hunter and Talis did not talk to because he was also a snitch for Major Narcotics. Ballard ran his name on the computer and felt a jolt of adrenaline kick in as she learned that not only had the snitch somehow survived the last thirty years, but he was literally two blocks away from her at that very moment: Dorsey was being held in the county jail on a parole violation. She checked his criminal history and saw that the last decade was replete with drug and assault arrests, the accumulation eventually landing him in prison for a five-year term. It seemed pretty clear from the history that Dorsey’s usefulness as a snitch had long since ended and he was without the protection of his handlers at Major Narcotics.
“Hot damn!” she said.
Amy Dodd leaned back in her chair so she could see around the partition between their work spaces.
“Something good, I take it?” she asked.
“Better than good,” Ballard said. “I found a guy and I don’t even have to get in my car.”
“Men’s Central—and he’s not going anywhere.”
Ballard went back to the computer, wondering if the dice would keep tumbling her way. She pulled up the hold for parole violation and got a second jolt of adrenaline when she saw the name of the PO who had filed the violation and pickup order on Dorsey. She pulled her phone out of her back pocket and called Rob Compton on speed dial.
“You,” Compton answered. “What do you want?”
It was clear from his brusqueness that Compton still hadn’t gotten past their last interaction. They’d had a casual off-duty relationship that blew up on-duty when Compton and Ballard disagreed on strategy regarding a case they were working. Compton bailed out of the car they were arguing in and then bailed out of the relationship they’d had.
“I want you to meet me at Men’s Central,” Ballard said. “Dennard Dorsey, I want to talk to him and I might need you for leverage.”
“Never heard of him,” Compton said.
“Come on, Rob, your name’s on the VOP order.”
“I’ll have to look him up.”
“Go ahead. I’ll wait.”
Ballard heard typing and realized she had reached Compton at his desk.
“I don’t know why I’m doing this,” he said. “I seem to recall being left high and dry by you the last time I did you a favor.”
“Oh, come on,” Ballard said. “I seem to recall you pussied out on me and I got mad. You got out of the car and walked away. But you can make up for it now with Dorsey.”
have to make up for it? You’ve got balls, Ballard. That’s all I can say about it.”
Ballard heard a peal of laughter from the other side of the partition. She knew Amy had heard Compton’s comment. She held the phone against her chest so Compton would not hear, then turned the volume down before bringing it back to her mouth.
“You got him or not?” she asked.
“Yeah, I got him,” Compton said. “No wonder I didn’t remember him. I never met him. He never reported. Got out of Wasco nine months ago, came back down here, and never showed up. I put in the VOP and he got picked up.”
“Well, now’s a good time to meet him.”
“I can’t, Renée. I got paper to do today.”
“Paperwork? Come on, Robby. I’m working a murder and this guy may have been a key witness.”
“Doesn’t look like the type who’s going to talk. He’s got a gang jacket. Rolling 60s going back to the eighties. He’s hard-core. Or was.”
“Not really. Back in the day he was a snitch. A protected snitch. Look, I’m going over there. You can help me if you want. Maybe give him some incentive to talk.”
“What incentive would that be?”
“I figure you might give him a second chance.”
“Nah, nah, nah, I’m not letting the guy out. He’ll just shit all over me again. I can’t do that, Ballard.”
Compton going to her last name told her he was set on this.
“Okay, I tried,” she said. “I’ll try something else. See ya around, Robby. Or actually, I probably won’t.”
She disconnected and dropped her phone on the desk. Amy spoke teasingly from the other side of the partition.
“Hey, he deserved it. I’m working a murder here.”
“Roger the fuck that.”
Ballard’s plan was to go over to Men’s Central, but first she finished the rundown on the names on her list. After Brendan Sloan, whose whereabouts she already knew, came Elvin Kidd, the Rolling 60s street boss at the time of the murder, and Nathan Brazil, John Hilton’s roommate. Both were still alive and Ballard got addresses for them from the DMV computer. Kidd lived out in Rialto in San Bernardino County and Brazil was in West Hollywood.
Ballard was curious about Kidd. Now nearly sixty years old, he had moved far away from Rolling 60s Crips turf, and his interactions with the justice system seemed to have stopped almost twenty years before. There had been arrests and convictions and prison time, but then it appeared that Kidd either started to fly below the radar with his continuing illegal pursuits or found the straight-and-narrow life. The latter possibility would not have been all that unusual. There were not that many old gangsters on the street. Many never got out of their twenties alive, many were incarcerated with life sentences, and many simply grew out of gang life after realizing only the first two alternatives awaited them.
In checking Kidd’s record she came across a possible connection to Hilton. Both had spent time at Corcoran State Prison, with what looked like a sixteen-month overlap in the late 1980s when they were both there. Hilton was finishing his sentence while Kidd was starting his. His term ended thirteen months after Hilton was released.
The overlap meant they could have known each other, though one was white and one was black and groups in state prison tended to self-segregate.
Ballard went onto the California Department of Corrections database and downloaded photos of Kidd taken each year at the prisons where he was incarcerated. She was immediately hit with a charge of recognition when the photos from Corcoran came up. Kidd had shaved his head since his previous prison stint. And now she recognized him.
She quickly opened her backpack and pulled out John Hilton’s notebook. She flipped through the pages until she came to the drawing of the black man with the shaved head. She compared the drawing to Elvin Kidd’s photos from Corcoran. They were a match. John Hilton had been murdered in a drug alley controlled by a man he had obviously known and even sketched while at Corcoran State Prison.
After that, she reconfigured her list based on what she now knew about the names on it. She put them into two groups because of the angles from which she had to approach them.
Ballard was excited. She knew she was making progress. And she knew that the first three interviews, if she got the men to talk to her, would give context to the conversation she hoped to have with Talis, one of the original investigators on the case. She put Sloan in last position because, depending on whether Dorsey spoke with Ballard, he might not even be relevant to her investigation.
Ballard logged out of the system and returned all the case materials to her backpack. She stood up and leaned on the partition to look at Amy Dodd. She had always worried about Amy, who had spent her entire career as a detective working sexual assault cases. Ballard knew it could wear you down, leave you feeling hollow.
“I’m going to go,” Ballard said.
“Good luck,” Amy said.
“Yeah, you too. You all right?”
“Good. How are things around here?”
“No controversies lately. Olivas seems to be lying low since he made captain. Plus I heard he’s only got a year left before he plans to cash in and retire. Probably wants things to go smoothly till he’s out. Maybe they’ll even send him out as a deputy chief.”
Olivas was the lieutenant-now-captain who had been in charge of Ballard’s old unit, Homicide Special. He had been the one who drunkenly pushed her up against a wall at a unit holiday party and tried to stick his tongue down her throat. That one moment changed the trajectory of Ballard’s career and barely left a bruise on his. Now he was captain and in charge of all of the Robbery-Homicide Division squads. But she had made her peace with it. She had found new life on the late-show beat. The department brass thought they were exiling her to the dark hours, but what they didn’t know was that they were redeeming her. She had found her place.
Still, knowing Olivas planned to cash out in a year was good intel.
“The sooner the better,” Ballard said. “Take care of yourself, Doddy.”
“You too, Balls.”
The Men’s Central jail was on Bauchet Street, a twenty-minute walk from the PAB. But Ballard changed her mind and decided to drive it so she could hit the road after speaking to Dennard Dorsey and move on to the next interview.
She waited in an interview room for twenty minutes before a sheriff’s deputy named Valens brought Dorsey in and sat him at a table across from her. Dorsey had a casualness about himself that indicated he was comfortable in his surroundings. He was far from a wide-eyed first-timer in Men’s Central. He was African-American, with skin so dark that the complete collar of tattoos on his neck was unreadable and looked to Ballard like a set of old bruises. He had a full head of graying hair that was cornrowed and matched a goatee that was so long, it too was braided. His wrists were cuffed behind his back and he had to lean forward slightly in the chair.
According to the records Ballard had pulled up on the computer, Dorsey had turned fifty in jail just a few days earlier, making him just twenty-one at the time of John Hilton’s murder. But the man in front of her looked much older, easily into his sixties. The aging seemed so extreme that at first Ballard thought there had been a mistake and Valens had brought the wrong man into the room.
“You’re Dennard Dorsey?” she asked.
“That’s me,” he said. “What you want?”
“How old are you? Tell me your birth date.”
“March ten, ’sixty-nine. I’m fifty, so what the fuck is this about?”
The date matched and Ballard was finally convinced. She pressed on.
“It’s about John Hilton.”
“Who the fuck is that?”
“You remember. The guy got shot in the alley off Melrose where you used to sell drugs.”
“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”
“Yes, you do. You talked to your handler at the LAPD about it. Brendan Sloan, remember?”
“Fuck Brendan Sloan, that motherfucker never did jack shit for me.”
“He kept homicide away from you when they wanted to talk to you about John Hilton.”
“Fuck homicide. I never killed nobody.”
Dorsey turned around to see if he could get a guard’s attention through the glass door behind him. He was going to get up and go.
“Stay in your seat, Dennard,” Ballard said. “You’re not going anywhere. Not till we have a conversation.”
“Now why would I have a conversation with you?” Dorsey asked. “I talk to anybody I talk to my lawyer, that’s it.”
“Because right now, I’m talking to you as a possible witness. You bring a lawyer into it, then I’ll be talking to a suspect.”
“I tol’ you, I never killed nobody ever.”
“Then I’ll give you two reasons to talk to me. One, I know your parole officer—the one you never showed up to meet after you got out of Wasco. We’ve worked cases together. You help me here and I’ll go talk to him. Maybe he lifts the VOP and you’re back on the street.”
“What’s the other reason?” Dorsey asked.
Ballard was wearing a brown suit with chalk pinstripes. She reached into an inside pocket of her jacket for a folded document, a prop she had pulled out of the murder book in prep for the interview. She unfolded it and put it down on the table in front of Dorsey. He leaned further forward and down to read it.
“I can’t read this,” he finally said. “They don’t give me glasses in here. What is it?”
“It’s a witness report from the John Hilton murder case from 1990,” Ballard said. “The lead investigator says there that he can’t talk to you because you’re a high-value snitch for the narco unit.”
“That’s bullshit. I ain’t no snitch.”
“Maybe not now, but you were then. Says it right there, Dennard, and you don’t want that piece of paper getting into the wrong hands, you know what I mean? Deputy Valens told me they got you in the Rolling 60s module. How do you think the shot callers in there will react if they see a piece of paper like that floating around?”
“You just messing with me. You can’t do that.”
“You don’t think so? You want to find out? I need you to tell me about that murder from twenty-nine years ago. Tell me what you know and what you remember and then that piece of paper disappears and you don’t have to worry about it ever again.”
“Okay, look, I remember I talked to Sloan about it back then. I tol’ him I wudn’t there that day.”
“And that’s what he told the detectives on the case. But that wasn’t the whole story, Dennard. You know something. A killing like that doesn’t go down without dealers on that street knowing something or hearing something before or after. Tell me what you know.”