Authors: Michael Connelly
Tags: #Crime &, #mystery
“I miss working with her and I don’t say that about too many people,” Bosch said.
“Well, she says the same about you. You want to take a look at the crime scene now?”
“Yes, I do.”
They started walking toward the lights and the waiting Mustang.
“Did you get anything from the neighbors yet?” Bosch asked.
“No shortage of witnesses,” she said. “When David Blitzstein started yelling in the street, he woke up the neighborhood. I had the best of the lot taken to the station to give formal statements.”
“Anybody hear the gun?”
Bosch stopped and looked at her.
“Nobody we’ve found—and that includes Blitzstein himself. I’ve been up and down the street and nobody heard a gunshot. Everybody heard the guy screaming and plenty of them looked out their windows and saw him standing in the street. Nobody heard or saw a gun. Nobody heard or saw the getaway vehicle, either.”
“You mean if there was one.”
“If there was one.”
Bosch started back toward the Mustang but then stopped again.
“What was your take on the husband?” he asked.
“Like I said, he’s been nothing but cooperative so far. You thinking the husband?”
“At the moment I’m thinking everybody. What was this guy wearing when he was in the middle of the street yelling for help?”
“Blue jeans. No shirt, no shoes.”
“Any blood on him?”
“Not that I saw.”
Bosch’s phone buzzed. It was his partner.
“Harry, I’ve been talking to the manager of the card room. He said Tracey Blitz won a lot of money last night.”
“How much is a lot?”
“She cashed in sixty-four hundred in chips.”
That jibed with what David Blitzstein had told Kimber Gunn.
“Do they have cameras in the parking lot?” Bosch asked.
Ferras put his hand over the phone and Bosch heard a muffled back-and-forth conversation. Then Ferras came back on the line.
“There are cameras,” Ferras reported. “He’s going to let me see if she was followed out of the lot.”
“Good. Let me know.”
Bosch hung up.
“That was my partner at the casino,” he told Gunn. “He confirmed she won sixty-four hundred dollars last night. He’ll check the cameras to see if she was followed when she left.”
“Let’s go take a look at the victim,” Bosch said.
Bosch silently studied the murder scene for several minutes, trying to take in the nuances of motivation. Tracey Blitzstein had a contact wound on the left side of her head just above the ear. There was an explosive exit wound encompassing much of her upper right cheek. Her body sat behind the steering wheel of the Mustang, held in place by the seat belt and shoulder strap. She was killed before she had made a move to get out of the car.
Her small clutch purse was lying unzipped on her lap. Her head was turned slightly to the right and down, her chin on her chest. There were blood spatters and brain material on the dashboard, steering wheel and passenger seat and door. But little blood had dripped from the wounds down onto her clothes or purse. Death had come instantly, the heart getting no chance to pump blood from the wounds.
Bosch noted that the Mustang’s windows were all intact. He believed that this meant that the fatal shot had been fired through the driver’s open door. Bosch drove a Mustang himself. He knew that when the car’s transmission was placed in drive, the doors automatically locked. This meant that the shooter didn’t open the door. The victim did. She had likely stopped the car, killed the engine and then opened the door to get out before taking off the seat belt. It was when she opened the door that the killer approached, most likely from behind the car, and fired the fatal shot into her brain from a position slightly behind her. She probably never saw her killer or knew what was coming.
Bosch noticed a yellow evidence marker on the passenger-side door. There was a padded armrest with a hole in it. The yellow tags were used to mark locations of ballistic evidence. He knew that the slug that had killed Tracey Blitzstein had been stopped by the car door.
Bosch saw another yellow marker on the front hood of the car. It marked the location of a bullet casing that had been found in the crack between the hood and the car’s front right fender. It was most likely the shell ejected from the killer’s gun. Bullet casings were usually ejected from the gun’s chamber in an arc to the right rear of the weapon. This was by design because almost all automatics were manufactured for right-handed shooters and a right-rear ejection arc would take the casing away from the shooter.
But a shell could easily be redirected forward after rebounding off another object. And if a left-hander was firing the weapon, that object could be the shooter himself. Bosch was left-handed and had personal experience with this—one time a red-hot shell had hit him in the eye after being ejected during range practice. He knew that, depending on the shooter’s stance and how the weapon was held, there was a possibility in this case that the ejected shell hit the shooter and then caromed forward—perhaps to land on the front hood of the car the killer had just fired into.
Bosch nodded to himself. He had a hunch that he was looking for a left-handed gun.
“What is it?” Gunn asked.
“Nothing yet. Just a theory.”
An assistant coroner named Puneet Pram was working the scene along with a forensics team from the LAPD’s Scientific Investigation Division. While some coroners kept up a running commentary of what they were doing and seeing at a crime scene, Pram was a very quiet worker. Bosch had been at murder scenes with him before and knew that he would not be getting a lot from him until the autopsy. Donald Dussein, the head of the forensics team, was another matter. He was a known character in the department. Known by a variety of nicknames ranging from Donald Duck to D-Squared, he was usually overly forthcoming—to the point of bending facts into theory and confusing his role at a crime scene. Bosch had worked with him as well and knew he would have to rein him in and keep him on point.
And it wasn’t long into Dussein’s initial briefing that Bosch had to do just that.
“Couple things first,” Dussein said. “The contact wound to the head. Neat and very clean. Too clean if you ask me.”
“All right, then, I’m asking you,” Bosch said. “What do you mean by ‘too clean’?”
“Well, Harry, I’ve seen a lot of these in my time. And this has the look of a hitter’s work. I’m talking about a contract killer. You have the illicit world of gambling and money in which this victim traversed and then a hit like this and it all adds—”
“Hold on a second there, Double D. How about you stick to forensics and we’ll do the detective work, okay? I need facts from you, not theories. Now, what about the contact wound is too clean for you? What are you trying to say?”
Chastened, Dussein nodded.
“The burn pattern is too small,” he said. “You see, normally, you put the muzzle up to the side of somebody’s head and pull the trigger, you get a three-to-five-inch burn in the hair and on the skin. The hot gases coming out of the barrel spread and burn. You follow?”
“We follow,” Bosch said.
“Okay, well, we’ve got no burn here. We’ve got a contact wound but we’ve got no burn. No gases and you know what that means.”
Bosch nodded. He did know. It meant that the weapon used to kill Tracey Blitzstein was likely equipped with a sound suppressor—a silencer that would have rechanneled the sound of the shot. In doing so it would have rechanneled the explosion of hot gases as well. It would have sent them backward through the baffles of the snap-on device toward the shooter, leaving the victim’s hair unburned except in the immediate area of the wound.
“It would explain why none of the witnesses heard the shot,” Bosch said.
“What are you saying, the shooter used a silencer?” Gunn asked.
“That’s what I’m saying,” Dussein said.
He gestured toward the body.
“There is no burn. This is a contact wound with no burn. I’m telling you, the shooter used a suppressor.”
Bosch nodded. He decided it might be best to move on to the rest of the review.
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s talk about ballistics.”
Dussein nodded, ready to move on.
“We got lucky there,” he said. “The slug impacted in the padding of the door and we recovered it in good shape. We also have the casing recovered from the front of the vehicle. A forty-caliber federal. Between the slug and the shell we will be able to match it to a weapon. You just need to find the weapon.”
“I’m wondering how the shell ended up on the front hood,” he said.
“That’s a good question,” Dussein said. “You want to hear my theory?”
“How about I tell you mine?”
Bosch moved to the open door of the Mustang and reached in with his left hand, stopping a half foot from the victim’s head.
“I’m thinking the shooter was possibly left-handed. In this position the shell could have bounced off his body and then ricocheted forward over the roof to the front hood.”
“My theory exactly.”
Dussein beamed. Bosch just nodded.
“What about the purse?” he asked. “Can we have that yet?”
“Give me five more minutes and then it’s yours,” Dussein replied.
Bosch nodded again and stepped back away from the car. He signaled Gunn outside the grouping so they could confer privately.
“Tell me again what the witnesses said about the husband when they saw him in the street?”
“They said he was in the middle of the street, screaming for help, yelling things like call the cops and call for an ambulance. The man who lives across the street was the next on scene and checked on the victim. He saw that there was no hope and took the husband back over to his place. He was sitting on the porch with him when police arrived on scene.”
Gunn pointed across the street to the old craftsman with a porch running its entire length.
“The neighbor gave him some clothes, too,” she added. “A T-shirt and a pair of sandals. Blitzstein never went back into his own house before we shipped him downtown.”
“Okay, good. Let’s just make sure nobody goes into the house until we get a search warrant.”
He looked around the crime scene. Gunn took a step closer and spoke in a lower voice.
“You really like him for this, don’t you? The husband. I wish I knew what I was missing.”
Bosch shook his head.
“I don’t know. You’re probably not missing anything. Things just don’t seem right to me. Do you know if David Blitzstein is left-handed or right-handed?”
“I don’t know. Do you want me to call my partner? He’s probably still delivering him. He could ask.”
“No, that would tip him off. Let that go for now. Until we…”
He didn’t finish.
Until we what?
He didn’t know yet.
“What doesn’t seem right about the scene?” Gunn said, pressing him. “Teach me something.”
“Just a feeling, that’s all. The door was locked on that car when she pulled in. I know, I have a Mustang and the doors automatically lock.”
“Okay, it was locked, but she opened it.”
Bosch shook his head.
“That’s what I don’t see. I know this kind of woman. I was married to one. Someone like her, somebody who moves in a man’s world, somebody who plays cards all night and wins big… somebody who knows the dangers that comes with all of that… I don’t see her swinging that door open before she takes off the seat belt. She wouldn’t open that door until she was ready to move.”
Gunn digested Bosch’s ramble and nodded.
“But she would open it for someone she trusted,” she said.
Bosch pointed a finger at her like a gun and nodded his head.
“Only one problem with that scenario,” she said. “Where’s the gun? I’ve got about a dozen witnesses who saw Blitzstein in the middle of the street in his blue jeans and nothing else.”
Bosch was ready for that argument.
“The gun could be anywhere. It could be in the house or the canal behind the house. It doesn’t matter because the gun and the gunshot do not set the time of the killing. The witnesses didn’t look out their windows because they heard a shot. They looked because Blitzstein was out there screaming in the street.”
Bosch saw recognition flare in Gunn’s eyes.
“You’re saying he had time to get rid of the gun because nobody knows how long it was between when she was capped with the silencer and when he went into the street and started waking up the neighborhood.”
“That’s the other thing. Him going into the street and yelling for help—like he wanted the neighbors to see him. I don’t know, if that was my wife in that car with her brains all over the place… I don’t think I’d end up in the middle of the street with no blood on me. I don’t see that at all.”
His phone buzzed and he started digging it out of his pocket.
“See if Dussein’s done with the purse,” he said. “I’ve got a guy at Parker Center waiting to go to work. I’ll get him on the search warrant for the house.”
“You got it.”
Bosch opened his phone. It was Ignacio Ferras.
“Harry, I’ve looked at all the tapes from the casino’s entrance area and the parking lot. It looks to me like she had a follower.”
Bosch felt a sudden pause. A follower would completely contradict the theory he had just spun with Gunn.
“Are you sure, Ignacio?”
“Well, nothing’s for sure but I have her on tape leaving the casino with a security escort. The guy walked her out to her car. He then stood in the lot until she pulled out. Everything was copacetic. But then in thirty-second intervals two more cars pulled out and headed in the same direction she did. Toward the freeway entrance down the block.”
“Okay, but aren’t cars pulling in and out of there at a regular clip? Even in the middle of the night? And probably most of the cars that leave go to the freeway, right?”
“Yeah, they do. At all hours—the casino’s open twenty-four hours. But after I saw these two cars follow her out, I went back through the tapes to trace the drivers. I found one of them came out a couple minutes before the victim. He got in his car and took a little time before pulling out. I think he was smoking. That allowed the victim to leave first.”