Authors: Michael Connelly
“Good. Then I’ll talk to you tomorrow to see how you’re doing with your homework.”
Carpenter was silent and Ballard felt that her attempt to inject humor with the homework angle had fallen flat. There was no humor to be found in this situation.
“Uh, anyway, I know you have to work early tomorrow,” Ballard continued clumsily. “But see what you can get done and I’ll check in with you in the afternoon.”
“Okay, Renée,” Carpenter said.
“Good,” Ballard said. “And Cindy? You can call me anytime you want. Goodbye now.”
Ballard disconnected and looked at Bosch.
“That was the victim. She thinks they took a photo during the oral cop.”
Bosch’s eyes went off her as he registered this and filed it in his knowledge of the evil things men do.
“That changes things some,” he said.
“Yes,” Ballard said. “It does.”
After dropping her briefcase off at a desk in the detective squad room Ballard headed to the watch office to make an appearance and see if there was anything working in the division that might call for a detective. The watch lieutenant was a lifer named Dante Rivera who was closing in on his golden ticket. Thirty-three years in meant a maximum pension of 90 percent of his final salary. Rivera was just five months out, and there was a countdown calendar on the wall of the watch office. He tore off a page every day, not only to keep the count but to remove the profane comments written on the date by a dayside wiseass.
Rivera had spent most of his years working various assignments at Hollywood Division. He was considered an old-timer by department standards, but as he had joined early, he was still not even close to sixty years old. He’d take his 90 percent, supplement it with a part-time security job or a PI ticket and do nicely the rest of his days. But his years on the job had also wrapped him in a tight cocoon of inertia. He wanted each midnight shift to go by as smooth as glass. He wanted no waves, no complications, and no issues.
“L-T,” Ballard said. “What do we have happening tonight in the big bad city?”
“Nada,” Rivera said. “All quiet on the western front.”
Rivera always used that phrase, as if Hollywood were at the edge of the city. Perhaps at night that was valid, as the wealthy neighborhoods out west usually grew quiet and safe. Hollywood was the western front. Most nights, Ballard hated hearing him say all was quiet, because she was looking for a case or something to join in on. But not this night. She had work to do.
“I’ll be in the D-bureau and on my rover,” she said. “I have follow-ups on last night’s capers. Have you seen Spellman around?”
“Sergeant Spellman?” Rivera asked. “He’s next door.”
Ballard noted the correction as she left the watch office, and walked into the central hallway. She went down to the next office, which was informally called the sergeant’s office because it was a spot where the supervisors could separate themselves from the troops to make calls, write reports, or decide whether to write up officers for breaking procedure. Spellman was alone in the room and sitting at a long counter, looking at a video on his laptop. He immediately closed the laptop when Ballard walked in.
“Ballard, what’s up?”
“I don’t know. Came in to ask you what’s going on and to see if anything came up in roll call about my case up in the Dell.”
It looked like he had been watching body cam footage of an approach to a parked car. That was part of his job, so his quickly closing the laptop made Ballard think that what was on camera was one of the two Fs: use of force or people fucking — both of which could happen on any traffic or stationary car stop.
“Oh, yeah, forgot to get back to you,” Spellman said. “Things got hectic in roll call because we had Vice come in for an intel session, and then I had to get people out on the streets. But I grabbed Vitello and Smallwood at the kit room before they went out. They had nothing remarkable last night. Plus they got pulled out of their zone on a couple backups.”
“Okay,” Ballard said. “Thanks for asking.”
She turned and headed out of the room. It was small and stuffy and smelled like whatever cologne Spellman was wearing.
Ballard took the long way back to the D-bureau so she would not have to walk through the watch office again. She figured out of sight meant out of mind with Rivera. Back at the desk she had borrowed, she got out a notebook, opened her laptop, and called up her files on the Midnight Men cases. She found the cell number for the first victim, Roberta Klein, and called it. She checked the clock on the wall over the TV screens as she waited for an answer. She wrote 9:05 p.m. on a page in the notebook so she would have it when she updated the chrono. Roberta Klein picked up on the sixth ring.
“Hi, Bobbi, it’s Detective Ballard at Hollywood Division.”
“Did you catch them?”
“No, not yet, but we’re working the case — even on the holiday. I’m sorry to call so late.”
“It scared me. I thought, ‘Who’s calling me now?’ ”
“I’m sorry. How are you doing?”
“Not good. I don’t hear from you people. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m scared. I keep thinking they might come back, because the LAPD can’t catch them.”
Once more Ballard found herself annoyed with Lisa Moore. Sex assault cases required a lot of hand-holding of victims. They needed to be kept informed, because the more they knew what the police were doing, the safer they felt. The safer they felt, the more likely they were to cooperate. In a rape case, cooperating could mean staring down your attacker in a lineup or in court. That took guts and it took support. Here was just another situation where Lisa had dropped the ball. This was her case. Ballard was only the nightside detective — she wasn’t lead. Until now, apparently.
“Well, I promise we’re on this case full-time, and that’s why I’m calling,” Ballard said.
“I left my job,” Klein said.
“What do you mean?”
“I quit. I don’t want to leave my house until they’re caught. I’m too scared.”
“Have you seen any of the therapists we told you about?”
“I hate Zooming. I stopped. It’s so impersonal.”
“Well, I think you should maybe reconsider that, Bobbi. It could help you get through this time. I know it’s diff — ”
“If you didn’t catch them, why are you calling me?”
It was clear that Klein wasn’t interested in hearing how a therapist on a computer screen could help her through the dark hours.
“Bobbi, I’m going to level with you because I know you are a strong individual,” Ballard said. “We need to refocus the investigation and we need your help with it.”
“How?” Klein asked. “Why?”
“Because we were looking at this case from a neighborhood angle. We thought that these men chose the neighborhood first and then looked for a victim in it — because there was easy and quick access in and out.”
“And that’s not what happened?”
“Well, we think maybe it was victim-specific targeting.”
“What does that mean?”
Her voice became a bit shrill as she began to understand.
“They may have crossed paths with you in a different way, Bobbi. And we need to — ”
“You mean they picked me specifically?”
There was a sharp scream, reminding Ballard of times when she had inadvertently stepped on her dog’s paw.
“Bobbi, listen to me,” Ballard said quickly. “There is nothing
to be afraid of. We really don’t think they will come back. They have moved on, Bobbi.”
“What does that mean?” Klein asked. “Is there another victim? Is that what you’re saying?”
Ballard realized that the whole conversation had gotten away from her. She had to steer it back on course or end it and move to the next victim, using everything she had learned from mishandling this call on the next one.
“Bobbi, I need you to calm down so I can talk to you and tell you what’s going on,” Ballard said. “Can you do that for me?”
There was a long silence before the woman on the other end responded.
“Okay,” she said in an even tone. “I’m calm. Tell me what the fuck is going on.”
“There was another victim, Bobbi,” Ballard said. “It happened early this morning. I can’t tell you the details but it has changed our thinking on this. And that’s why I need your help.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“First of all, I need you to tell me if you ever go to the Native Bean coffee shop in Los Feliz.”
There was a pause while Klein considered the question.
“No,” Klein said. “I’ve never been there.”
“It’s on Hillhurst,” Ballard said. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. Is that — ”
“Do you know anyone who works there?”
“No, I never even go over that way.”
“Thank you, Bobbi. Now I want — ”
“Was someone there attacked?”
“I can’t really discuss that with you, Bobbi. Just as you have protections against being identified, so do other victims. Now, I have your email. I’m going to send you a document. It’s a questionnaire about your life and your movements and it will
help us figure out where you might have initially crossed paths with these men.”
“Oh my God, oh my God.”
“There is nothing to panic about, Bobbi. It will — ”
“Nothing to panic about? Are you kidding me? Those men could easily come back here and hurt me again. Any fucking time.”
“Bobbi, that is not going to happen. It’s very unlikely. But I’ll go to the watch office as soon as we’re finished here and ask the lieutenant to increase patrols on your street. I’ll make sure they do it. Okay?”
“Whatever. That’s not going to stop them.”
“Which brings us to the survey I want you to fill out. This
help us stop them. Can you take some time tonight and tomorrow and do it for me? You can email it back to me or if you want to print it out and work on it, I’ll come by and get it as soon you’re finished. Just call me.”
“What about Detective Moore? Where is she?”
“We’re working this together,” she said. “I’m handling the survey.”
Ballard proceeded to give the same instructions she’d given earlier to Cindy Carpenter. Being given a task that would distract her from her fears at least temporarily seemed to calm Klein and she finally agreed to fill out the questionnaire. Ballard, in turn, promised to come by to pick it up and to do a security survey of the house. By the time the call ended, Bobbi Klein was talking calmly and seemed ready to go to work.
Ballard was wrung out after the call, and she was feeling exhaustion creeping into her muscles. She decided to put off phoning the second victim. She got up and went to the station break room, where she brewed a cup of coffee on the Keurig
machine. It was not as good as Bosch’s blend nor as strong. She then went to the watch office and asked Rivera to have the car assigned to the RA encompassing Bobbi Klein’s neighborhood do a few extra drive-bys on her street. Rivera said that he would.
When Ballard got back to the desk, she decided to follow through on an idea that had been gestating since she had received Cindy Carpenter’s call about her rapists possibly taking a photo of her.
She went on the desk computer, signed in, and pulled up the original crime report and victim addendum. She found the listing for Reggie Carpenter, Cindy’s ex-husband, and ran his name through the DMV database. There were several hits, but only one of them carried an address in Venice, where Cindy had said her ex lived. She then ran the name and birth date through the crime database and learned that Reginald Carpenter had both a DUI arrest and an assault on his record from seven years earlier. He got probation for both and had apparently kept a clean record ever since.
Ballard called the number on the victim information sheet that Cindy had provided for her ex-husband. When it was answered, Ballard heard multiple voices — men and women — in the background before one said hello.
“Mr. Carpenter, this is Detective Ballard with the LAPD. Am I catching you at a bad time?”
“Wait — Shut the fuck up! Hello? Who is this?”
“I said, this is Detective Ballard with the LAPD. Do you have a few minutes?”
“Uh, well, what’s this about?”
Ballard decided to use a play to see if it would elicit information.
“I’m investigating a crime in your neighborhood — a break-in.”
“Last night. Shortly after midnight — which I guess would
technically make it today. I’m calling to see if you were home at that time and whether you happened to see any suspicious activity on your street.”
“Uh, no. I wasn’t here. I didn’t get home till pretty late.”
“Were you nearby? Maybe you saw something from wherever — ”
“No, I wasn’t nearby. I was in Palm Springs for New Year’s and just got back a couple hours ago. Which place got hit?”
“One-fifteen Deep Dell Terrace. We do think that the perpetrators watched the place before choosing when to — ”
“Let me stop you right there. I don’t live on Deep Dell anymore. Your information is bad.”
“Really. My mistake. So, you have not been in that neighborhood?”
“No, my ex-wife lives there, so I make it a practice to stay away.”
There was laughter in the background. It emboldened Carpenter.
“What did you say your name was?”
“Ballard. Detective Ballard.”
“Well, I can’t help you, Detective Ballard. What happens there is really not my concern anymore.”
He said it in an officious way that drew more laughter from the people he was with. Ballard maintained a flat tone, thanked him for his time, and disconnected. She was unsure why she had even made the call. She was riffing off something she had picked up in Cindy Carpenter’s voice when she spoke of her ex-husband. It had been a note of apprehension, maybe even fear.
Back on the computer, Ballard opened the county courts system’s database and went through the portal to the family courts division. She looked up the Carpenter’s divorce, but as she expected, the records were sealed, other than the front page of
the original petition to dissolve the marriage. This was not unusual. Ballard knew that most divorce cases were sealed because the parties usually hurled negative accusations at each other, and public dissemination of these could damage reputations, especially without offers of proof.
Ballard was able to glean two facts from the limited information. One was that the divorce action had been initiated by Cindy, and the other was the name, address, and phone number of her attorney. Ballard googled the attorney’s name — Evelyn Edwards — which led her to a website for a law firm called Edwards & Edwards specializing in family law. According to the website, the law firm offered its services twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Ballard pulled up the bio on Edwards and saw a smiling photo of an African-American woman in her late thirties. Ballard decided to test the firm’s claim of being there for you 24/7.
She called the number from the divorce filing and reached a robot answering service that asked her to leave a message and assured her that Ms. Edwards would call back as soon as possible. Ballard left a message.