Authors: Michael Connelly
“Lee, Albert, DOD two-two-eleven.”
She wrote it all down.
“It’s an open case?” she asked.
“Open-unsolved,” Elder said. “An RHD case.”
Robbery-Homicide Division, Ballard’s old unit before she was unceremoniously shipped out to work the late show in Hollywood. But 2011 was before her time there.
“Does it say who the I/O is?” she asked.
“It does but it’s out of date,” Elder said. “Says here the investigating officer is Harry Bosch. But I knew him and he’s been retired awhile.”
Ballard froze for just a moment before managing to speak.
“I know,” she then said.
Ballard pulled to a stop in front of the house on Woodrow Wilson. She yawned and realized that going home first had probably been a mistake. Changing out of the stiff uniform was a good thing, but then dozing on the couch for an hour had somehow only served to underline her exhaustion, not knock it down.
She could hear music coming from the house as soon as she opened the car door. Something high velocity but more bluesy than she was used to hearing from Harry Bosch. And there were vocals. It made her think that maybe someone else was inside listening.
She knocked loudly on the door to be heard over the music. It was immediately cut off and then the door opened. It was Bosch.
“Well,” he said. “The prodigal detective.”
“What?” Ballard said. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, I just haven’t heard from you in a long time. Thought you forgot about me.”
“Hey, you were the one who went off to the dark side, working for that defense lawyer. I thought there was no time for me.”
“Really. So, you get the vaccine yet? How do you feel about having visitors inside? I’ve got antibodies and can keep my mask on.”
Bosch stepped back for her to enter.
“You can come in and you can lose the mask. I haven’t got the vax yet but I’ll risk it. And for the record, I didn’t work
Mickey Haller. I work for myself.”
Ballard crossed the threshold, ignoring the comment about Haller and keeping her mask on.
“It sounded like you were having a party in here.”
“I mighta had the volume up a bit.”
The house was unchanged. The galley kitchen was to the right of the entry area and she stepped forward toward the view, passing by the dining area into the living room. The sliders were open to the deck and the view of the Cahuenga Pass. She pointed to the open doors.
“Letting everybody in the canyon hear your beats,” she said. “Nice.”
“Is that what this is?” Bosch asked. “A noise complaint?”
She turned and looked at him.
“Actually, it’s a complaint but about something else.”
“Great way to start off the new year — with the LAPD mad at me. Might as well hit me with it.”
“Not the LAPD. So far. Just me. This morning I drove all the way out to Westchester to the new homicide library they opened out there. You know, where they keep all the murder books from open cases. They finally put them all in one central place. And I asked for a book from one of your old cases and they told me it was gone, last checked out by you.”
Bosch frowned and shook his head.
“I read about that place in the paper,” he said. “Sponsored by the Ahmanson family. But the grand opening was long after I
was out the door at LAPD. I’ve never set foot in that place, let alone checked out a book.”
Ballard nodded like she anticipated his response, and had an answer.
“They moved the archives from the divisions over one at a time,” she said. “If a book was checked out, they moved the checkout card over so there would be a space on the shelf at Ahmanson. The card on your case was from 2014 — three years after the murder and before you pulled the pin.”
Bosch didn’t respond at first, like he was checking facts in his head.
“The case was 2011?” he finally asked. “What was the name?”
“Albert Lee. Killed with a Walther P-twenty-two. You recovered the casing, apparently. But that’s about all I know, because you took the damn murder book. I need it back, Harry.”
Bosch held up his hand like he was trying to stop the accusation.
“I didn’t take the book, okay?” he said. “When I left, I copied the chronos of every case I still had open. On some I copied everything. But I never took a book. And with the archives in the divisions, anybody could have taken that book and put my name on the checkout card. There was no security around the books. We supposedly didn’t need it, because they were considered safe — they were in police stations, after all.”
Ballard folded her arms across her chest, not ready to give in on the point just yet.
“So, you’re saying you might have the chrono but you don’t have the book?”
“Exactly. I kept the chronos in case they ever got cleared and I got pulled into court to testify about the initial investigation. I wanted to be able to refresh my memory, that sort of thing. I remember the Albert Lee case. It wasn’t the kind of case where I’d even want to steal the book.”
Ballard shifted her stance and looked back at the dining room table. She saw a six-inch stack of documents she had not noticed when she had entered. The top page was clearly the front page of an autopsy report. She pointed to it.
“And what’s that?” she asked. “That looks like a whole book at least.”
“It’s parts of about six books,” Bosch said. “But it isn’t Lee. Look for yourself if you don’t believe me. Why would I lie to you about this, Renée?”
“I don’t know. But stealing books is not cool.”
“I agree. That’s why I never did it.”
She walked over to the table and used a hand to spread the stack out over the table so she could see some of the documents. One of the documents had what looked like a surveillance photo attached to it. It showed a man getting into a car in what was clearly the parking lot of an In-N-Out restaurant. There was no time-and-date stamp, so it wasn’t an official stakeout shot.
“Who’s this?” she asked.
“It’s not the Lee case,” Bosch insisted. “It’s something else entirely, okay?”
“I’m just asking. Who is it?”
Ballard nodded. It explained the stack. Some cases spawn many murder books. Especially the unsolved cases.
“I thought so,” she said. “Can’t let it go, can you?”
“And what, you think I should?” Bosch asked. “He killed a whole family and got away with it. I should let it go?”
“I’m not saying that. I know it’s your white whale, Harry. We’ve talked about it.”
“Okay, then you know.”
Ballard wanted to switch the conversation back to her case.
“You said Lee wasn’t the kind of case you’d copy a whole book for,” she said. “What do you mean by that?”
“It didn’t get its hooks into me,” Bosch said.
“Well, as you know, or as I guess you will come to know, some people are sort of the architects of their own demise. And others, they get hit by the bus. They’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time and they did nothing to bring on their fate. They’re innocent.”
Bosch gestured to the pile of documents spread out on his table.
“And they’re the ones who get their hooks in you,” he said.
Ballard nodded and was silent for a moment, as if giving all those who were innocent her respect.
“Hooks or no hooks, can you tell me what you remember about Lee?” she asked. “I’ve made a ballistic connection to the killing of a man in Hollywood last night.”
Bosch raised his eyebrows. He was finally intrigued.
“Last murder of the year, huh?” he said.
“Actually, the first,” Ballard said. “When the shooting started at midnight, somebody put one in my victim’s head.”
“Audio camouflage. Clever. Who’s the vic?”
“Harry, you’re not the one asking questions here. Tell me about Lee first, then we can talk about my case. Maybe.”
“Got it. You want to sit?”
He gestured toward the table instead of the more comfortable living room. He moved behind it, where his back would be to a wall of unkempt stacks of books, files, CDs, and LPs, and sat down. Ballard sat across from him.
As Bosch spoke, he pushed the files Ballard had spread out back into a squared-off pile.
“Albert Lee, black male, I think he was thirty-four when he died. Maybe thirty-three. He had a good idea. Rappers were
becoming stars overnight, making their own tapes, coming right out of the ghetto and all of that. He borrowed money and opened a recording studio up in North Hollywood. It was nice, it was out of the gang territories of South Central, and people could come in, rent time in the studio, and lay down their raps. It was a great idea.”
“Until it wasn’t.”
“Right, until it wasn’t. I mentioned he borrowed the money. He had a monthly nut he had to pay, plus rent and other expenses. Plus some of these people who came up to his place to record — ”
“No. I mean, yeah, they were, but what I was going to say was they had no money for studio time, and Albert — he had a soft side — he’d let them record if they signed over a piece of whatever they made off the beats, you know?”
“Got it. Just try to collect on that down the line.”
“Exactly, and a few of these people hit it sort of big, but even then collecting was slow. He sued a couple of those guys and it got all tied up in the courts.”
“He was going out of business?”
“That would have been the case but he took on an investor. Do you know what factoring is?”
“It’s a high-interest business loan that is sort of a bridge loan. It’s secured by your accounts receivable. Make sense?”
“Not really, no.”
“Say your company is owed a hundred dollars but it’s not going to come in for a couple months. A factor loan would give you the hundred so you can keep the business rolling, but it’s not secured by property or equipment, because none of that stuff is owned by the company. It’s all rented. The only value
the company has for securing a loan is what it’s owed — accounts receivable.”
“Okay, I got it.”
“So that’s what Albert Lee did. Only these are high-interest loans — it gets right up to the edge of loan-sharking but doesn’t cross the line. It’s legal and that’s the road Albert went down. He took out three different loans totaling a hundred thousand, got upside down, and couldn’t pay them because his lawsuits were delayed and delayed. So, soon his loan guy takes over the business. He leaves Albert in charge and running the place, he pays him a salary, and — and this is the thing — he makes him take out a key person insurance policy in case something happens to him.”
“Oh, shit. How much?”
“So Albert gets whacked and the loan guy gets paid.”
“But you couldn’t make a case.”
“Couldn’t get it there.”
Bosch gestured to the stack of documents on the table.
“Like this one. I have a pretty good idea who did it, but I can’t get it there. But unlike this family, Albert went down the road with his killer. For some people, the wolf breaks into the house. With people like Albert, they invite the wolf in.”
“So no sympathy for the guy who invites the wolf in. How does that fit with ‘everybody counts or nobody counts’?”
“The guy who opens the door still counts. But the innocents come first. When I get all of those solved, we can talk about the next wave. Everybody still counts. There are only so many hours in the day and days in the year.”
“And this is why a guy who kills an entire family is on the top of your pile.”
“You got it.”
Ballard nodded as she digested Bosch’s view of what it took to either get hooked by a case or be able to put it at the end of the line.
“So,” she finally said. “On the Albert Lee case, who was the factor?”
“It was a doctor,” Bosch said. “A dentist, actually. His name was John William James. His offices were down in the Marina and I guess he made so much money capping teeth that he started factoring.”
“You said ‘was.’ His name ‘was’ John William James.”
“Yeah, that’s going to be a problem with your case. John William James is dead. A couple years after Albert Lee got murdered, James got himself whacked as well. He was sitting in his Mercedes in the parking lot outside his office when somebody put a twenty-two in his head too.”
“There goes your lead, huh?”
“Maybe. But I’d still like to see if you can find the chrono on the case, and whatever else you’ve got.”
“Sure. It’s either in the carport closet or under the house.”
“Yeah, I built a storage room under there after I retired. It’s pretty nice. I even have a bench for when I go down and look through cases.”
“Which I’m sure you do often.”
Bosch didn’t respond, which she took as confirmation.
“By the way,” Ballard said. “How are you doing with everything … from the radiation case?”
She hesitated saying the word
“I’m still kicking, obviously,” Bosch said. “I take my pills and that seems to keep it in check. It could come back but for now I’ve got no complaints.”
“Good to hear,” Ballard said. “So do you mind looking for that chrono now?”
“Sure, I’ll be right back. It might take me a few. You want me to put the music back on?”
“That’s okay, but I was going to ask, what was that you were playing when I pulled up? It had a groove.”
“ ‘Compared to What.’ Some people say it was the first jazz protest song: ‘Nobody gives us rhyme or reason. Have one doubt, they call it treason.’ ”
“Okay, put it back on. Who is it?”
Bosch got up and went to the stereo to hit the play button. Then he adjusted the volume down.
“Originally Eddie Harris and Les McCann, but this version is John Legend and The Roots.”
Ballard started to laugh. Bosch hit the button again.
“What?” he asked.
“You surprise me, Harry, that’s all,” Ballard said. “I didn’t think you listened to anything recorded this century.”
“That hurts, Ballard.”
“I’ll be right back.”