Authors: Michael Connelly
Ballard was in the garage of her condominium complex, grabbing her kit bag out of the back, the printouts from Bosch under her arm, when a man approached her. She tensed as she scanned the garage and saw no one else around. Her gun was in the kit bag.
“Hello, neighbor,” the man said. “I just wanted to introduce myself. You’re twenty-three, right?”
She knew he meant her apartment number. She’d been in the building just a few months, and though there were only twenty-five units, she had not yet met all of her neighbors.
“Uh, yeah, hi,” she said. “Renée.”
They bumped elbows.
“I’m Nate in thirteen, right below you,” he said. “Happy New Year!”
“Happy New Year to you,” Ballard said.
“My partner is Robert. He said he met you when you were moving stuff in.”
“Oh, right, yeah, I met Robert. He helped me get a table into the elevator.”
“And he said you’re a cop.”
“Yes, that’s me.”
“I guess it’s not a great time to be a cop these days.”
“It has its moments. Not all good, not all bad.”
“Just so you know, I did join the Black Lives Matter protest. Don’t hold it against me.”
“I won’t. And I agree, Black lives matter.”
Ballard noticed he was carrying a helmet and wearing cycling gear, including the tight biking shorts with padding in the butt that look awkward whenever you’re off the bike. She wanted to change the subject without being rude to a neighbor.
“You ride?” she asked.
It was a dumb question but the best she could manage.
“Every chance I can,” Nate said. “But I sure see that you have a different hobby.”
He pointed to the boards Ballard had propped against the garage wall in front of her Defender. One was her paddleboard for flat days, the other her Rusty Mini Tanker for surfing the Sunset break. The rest of her boards were in the condo’s storage room, but her closet was full and she knew leaving her most used boards in the garage risked theft. She hoped the cameras on the exits were a deterrent.
“Yeah, I guess I like the beach,” she said, immediately not liking her answer.
“Well, good to meet you and welcome,” Nate said. “I should also tell you I’m current president of the homeowners association. I know you rent from the corporate owners — we approved that — but if you need anything HOA-related, knock on my door on the first floor.”
“Oh, okay. I will.”
“And I hope to see you at one of the mixers down in the courtyard.”
“I haven’t heard about that.”
“First Friday of every month, not including today, of course. Happy hour. It’s BYOB but people share.”
“Okay, good. Maybe I’ll see you there. And nice to meet you.”
“Happy New Year!”
Ballard was still getting used to having neighbors and felt awkward during the meet and greets — especially when it came out that she was a cop. She had spent most of the last four years alternating between a tent on Venice Beach and using her grandmother’s house in Ventura for sleeping. But Covid-19 shut the beaches, while the growing homeless population in Venice made it a place she didn’t want to be. She had rented the apartment, which was only ten minutes from the station. But it meant having neighbors above and below and to the left and right.
Nate headed toward the elevator, while she decided on the stairs so she wouldn’t have to ride with him and make more small talk. Her phone started to buzz and she struggled to pull it from her pocket without dropping the paperwork from Bosch. She saw on the screen that it was Lisa Moore calling.
“Fuck me,” Lisa said by way of hello.
“What’s wrong, Lisa?” Ballard asked.
“We got a case and I’m five minutes from the Miramar with Kevin.”
Ballard interpreted that to mean the Midnight Men had claimed another victim and Moore was almost to the resort in Santa Barbara with her boyfriend, a sergeant at Olympic Division.
“What’s the case?” she asked.
“The victim didn’t call it in till an hour ago,” Moore said. “I thought we were clear.”
“You mean she was raped last night but just reported it now?”
“Exactly. She sat in a bathtub for hours. Look, they took her to the RTC… . Is there any chance you can handle it, Renée? I
mean, it will probably take me two-plus hours to get back from here with the traffic and shit.”
“Lisa, we were on call the whole weekend.”
“I know, I know, I just thought that after we talked, I was clear, you know? We’ll turn around. It’s uncool to ask you.”
Ballard turned around and headed back to her car. It was a big ask from Moore, not just because this was technically her case. Ballard knew that any trip to the rape treatment center would leave a mark on her. There weren’t any uplifting stories to come out of the RTC. She opened the door of her Defender and put the kit bag back in.
“I’ll handle it,” she said. “But at some point Dash is going to check in and he might call you. You’re the one from Sex. Not me.”
“I know, I know,” Moore said. “I was thinking I would call him now and say we got the call and one of us will update him after we talk to the victim. If you call him later, that should cover me. And if you need me tomorrow, I’ll come back.”
“Whatever. I just don’t want my ass in a sling for covering for you.”
“It won’t be. You’re the best. I’ll call you later to check in.”
They disconnected. Ballard was annoyed. It wasn’t because of Moore’s lack of work ethic. After a year of pandemic and anti-police sentiment, commitment to the job was sometimes hard to find. The why-should-we-care disease had infected the whole department. What annoyed her was the disruption of her plan to spend the evening at home, ordering in from Little Dom’s, digging into the chronological record on the Albert Lee killing, and looking for connections to the Javier Raffa killing. Now that she had pulled a fresh Midnight Men case, Lieutenant Robinson-Reynolds would be sure to turn the Raffa
investigation over to West Bureau Homicide first thing in the morning.
“Shit,” she said as she started the Defender.
The RTC was an adjunct to the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica. Ballard had been there many times on cases, including the time she herself was examined for evidence of rape. She knew most of the women — it was all women who worked there — on a first-name basis. She entered the unmarked door and found two dayside uniforms she recognized as McGee and Black — both males — standing in the waiting room.
“Hey, guys, I can take it from here,” she said. “How’d the call come in?”
“She called it in,” Black said. “The victim.”
“She thought about it all day and then decided she’d been raped,” McGee said. “Whatever evidence there was went down the bathtub drain.”
Ballard stared at him for a moment, trying to read the sentiment behind such an asshole statement.
“Well, we’ll see about that,” she finally said. “Just so you know, I’m guessing she had no doubt about whether she was raped, okay, McGee? Her hesitation was most likely about making a report to a department and officers who don’t give a shit and don’t view rape as much of a crime.”
McGee’s cheeks started to blotch red with either anger or embarrassment or both.
“Don’t get upset, McGee,” Ballard said. “I didn’t say I was talking about you, did I?”
“Yeah, bullshit,” McGee said.
“Whatever,” Ballard said. “She told you it was two suspects?”
“She did,” Black said. “One got in, then let the other one in.”
“What time was this?” Ballard asked.
“Right about midnight,” Black said. “She said she didn’t stay up to see in the new year. Got home from work around nine-thirty, made some dinner, then took a shower and went to bed.”
“What was the address?” Ballard asked.
“She lives up in the Dell,” Black said.
He pulled a field interview card out of a back pocket and handed it to Ballard.
“Shit,” Ballard said.
“What?” McGee asked.
“I was sitting under the Cahuenga overpass at midnight,” Ballard said. “Right when these guys were up there behind me.”
The Dell was a hillside neighborhood a few blocks north of the overpass where Ballard and Moore had waited out the New Year’s fusillade. Looking at the field information card, she saw that the victim, Cynthia Carpenter, lived up on Deep Dell Terrace. It was almost all the way up the hill to the Mulholland Dam.
Ballard held the card up as if to ask, is this all you’ve got?
“You’ll do the IR today, right?” she asked.
“As soon as we get out of here,” Black said.
Ballard nodded. She needed the incident report as the starting point of the investigation.
“Well, I’ve got it from here,” she said. “You can go back to the six and write it up.”
“And you can go to hell, Ballard,” McGee said.
He didn’t move. Black grabbed him by the arm and pulled him toward the door.
“Let’s just go, dude,” he said. “Let it go.”
Ballard waited to see how McGee wanted to play it. There was a tense moment of silence and then he turned and followed his partner out to the parking lot.
Ballard took a breath and turned toward the admittance desk.
The receiving nurse, Sandra, smiled at her, having heard the exchange.
“You tell ’em, Renée,” she said. “Your victim’s in room three with Martha. I’ll let her know you’ll be in the hallway.”
“Thanks,” Ballard said.
Ballard went behind the desk and down the short hallway, which had doors to four examination rooms. Ballard had been there at times when all four contained victims of sexual assault.
The hallway was pastel blue and a mural of flowers had been added, growing from the baseboard, in an attempt to make things seem more pleasant in a place where horrors were documented. On the wall between rooms 1 and 3 was a billboard with various posted offerings of post-traumatic stress therapy and self-defense classes. Ballard was studying a business card tacked to the board that offered firearms instruction from a retired LAPD officer named Henrik Bastin. She found herself hoping that he got a lot of business out of this place.
The door to room 3 opened and Dr. Martha Fallon stepped out, pulling the door closed behind her. She smiled despite the circumstances.
“Hey, Renée,” she said.
“Martha,” Ballard said. “No holiday for you, huh?”
“I guess when rape takes a holiday, we’ll get one, too. Sorry, that sounded trite and I didn’t mean it that way.”
“How is Cynthia?”
“She prefers Cindy. She’s, uh, well, she’s on the dark side of the moon.”
Ballard had heard Fallon use the phrase before. The dark side of the moon was where people lived who had been through what Cindy Carpenter had just been through. Where a few dark hours changed everything about every hour that would come
after. The place that only the people who had been through it understood.
Life was never the same.
“You may have heard — she bathed,” Fallon said. “We didn’t get anything, not that it really matters.”
Ballard took that last part to be a reference to the backlog of rape kits waiting to be opened at the Forensics Unit for DNA typing and other evidentiary analysis. That fact alone seemed to stand for where the department and half of society, let alone Officer McGee, located sexual assault on the spectrum of serious crime. Every few years, there was a political outcry and money was found to process the backlog of rape cases. But then the furor subsided and the cases started backing up again. It was a cycle that never ended.
Fallon’s report was no surprise to Ballard. There had been no DNA recovered in the other two Midnight Men cases either. The unknown perpetrators planned and executed their crimes carefully. The cases were connected simply by modus operandi and the rarity of a tag team pair of rapists. It was in fact so rare that it had its own acronym, MOSA — multiple offender sexual assault.
“Are you finished?” Ballard asked. “Can I talk to her?”
“Yes, I told her you were here,” Fallon said.
“How is she?”
Ballard knew the victim wasn’t doing well. Her question referred to the level of psychological trauma within the range known to Fallon from treating thousands of rape survivors over the years, with stranger rapes being the most difficult to deal with.
“She’s not good,” Fallon said. “But you’re in luck, because right now she’s angry, and that’s a good time to talk. Once she has more time to think, it will be more difficult. She’ll pull into her shell.”
“Right,” Ballard said. “I’ll go in.”
“I’ll get her some take-home clothes,” Fallon said. “I assumed you would take her walk-in clothes and bagged them.”
The women went in opposite directions. Ballard moved to the door to room 3 but stood outside for a moment and read what Officer Black had put down on the FI card he had filled out while transporting Cindy Carpenter to the RTC.
Carpenter was twenty-nine years old, divorced, and the manager of the Native Bean coffee shop on Hillhurst Avenue. Ballard suddenly realized she might recognize this victim because the coffee shop was in her neighborhood in Los Feliz, and while Ballard had only moved in a few months prior, Native Bean had become her go-to spot to pick up coffee and an occasional blueberry muffin in the mornings after work, especially if she wanted to stave off sleep and head to the ocean.
Ballard knocked lightly on the door and entered. Cindy Carpenter was sitting up on an examination table and still in a gown. Her clothes, even though she had dressed after bathing, had been collected as evidence and were in a brown paper bag on the examination room counter. It was protocol and the bag had been sealed by Dr. Fallon. There was a second evidence bag in which Black and McGee had had the presence of mind to place the nightgown Carpenter had on when attacked as well as the sheets, blanket, and pillowcases from her bed. That was standard procedure but it was often overlooked by patrol officers. Ballard had to grudgingly give McGee and Black high marks for that. Also on the counter was a prescription written by Fallon for the morning-after pill as well as a card with instructions for how to access the results of HIV and STD testing that would follow the RTC examination.