Dark Sacred Night – Michael Connelly

T 1 he patrol officers had left the front door open. They thought they were doing her a favor, airing the place out. But that was a violation of crime scene protocol regarding evidence containment. Bugs could go in and out. Touch DNA could be disturbed by a breeze through the house. Odors were particulate. Airing out a crime scene meant losing part of that crime scene. But the patrol officers didn’t know all of that. The report that Ballard had gotten from the watch lieutenant was that the body was two to three days old in a closed house with the air-conditioning off. In his words, the place was as ripe as a bag of skunks. There were two black-and-whites parked along the curb in front of Ballard. Three blue suits were standing between them, waiting for her. Ballard didn’t really expect them to have stayed inside with the body. Up above, an airship circled at three hundred feet, holding its beam on the street. It looked like a leash of light tethering the circling craft, keeping it from flying away.

Ballard killed the engine but sat in her city ride for a moment. She had parked in front of the gap between two houses and could look out at the lights of the city spreading in a vast carpet below. Not many people realized that Hollywood Boulevard wound up into the mountains, narrow and tight, to where it was strictly residential and far in all ways from the glitz and grime of the Hollywood Boulevard tourist mecca, where visitors posed with costumed superheroes and sidewalk stars. Up here it was money and power and Ballard knew that a murder in the hills always brought out the department’s big guns. She was just babysitting. She would not have this case for long. It would go to West Bureau Homicide or possibly even Robbery-Homicide Division downtown, depending on who was dead and what their social status was. She looked away from the view and tapped the overhead light so she could see her notebook. She had just come from her day’s first callout, a routine break-in off Melrose, and had her notes for the report she would write once she got back to Hollywood Division. She flipped to a fresh page and wrote the time—01:47 a.

m.—and the address. She added a note about the clear and mild weather conditions. She then turned the light off and got out, leaving the blue flashers on. Moving to the back of the car, she popped the trunk to get to her crime scene kit. It was Monday morning, her first shift of a week running solo, and Ballard knew she would need to get at least one more wear out of her suit and possibly two. That meant not fouling it with the stink of decomp. At the trunk she slipped off her jacket, folded it carefully, and placed it in one of the empty cardboard evidence boxes. She removed her crime scene coveralls from a plastic bag and pulled them on over her boots, slacks, and blouse. She zipped them up to her chin and, placing one boot and then the other up on the bumper, tightened the Velcro cuffs around her ankles.

After she did the same around her wrists, her clothes were hermetically sealed. Out of the kit she grabbed disposable gloves and the breathing mask she’d used at autopsies when she was formerly with RHD, closed the trunk, and walked up to join the three uniformed officers. As she approached, she recognized Sergeant Stan Dvorek, the area boss, and two officers whose longevity on the graveyard shift got them the cushy and slow Hollywood Hills beat. Dvorek was balding and paunchy with the kind of hip spread that comes with too many years in a patrol car. He was leaning against the fender of one of the cars with his arms folded in front of his chest. He was known as the Relic. Anybody who actually liked being on the midnight shift and lasted significant years on it ended up with a nickname. Dvorek was the current record holder, celebrating his tenth year on the late show just a month before. The officers with him, Anthony Anzelone and Dwight Doucette, were Caspar and Deuce. Ballard, with just three years on graveyard, had no nickname bestowed upon her yet.

At least none that she knew about. “Fellas,” Ballard said. “Whoa, Sally Ride,” Dvorek said. “When’s the shuttle taking off?” Ballard spread her arms to display herself. She knew the coveralls were baggy and looked like a space suit. She thought maybe she had just been christened with a nickname. “That would be never,” she said. “So whadda we got that chased you out of the house?” “It’s bad in there,” said Anzelone. “It’s been cooking,” Doucette added. The Relic pushed off the trunk of his car and got serious.

“Female white, fifties, looks like blunt-force trauma and facial lacerations,” he said. “Somebody worked her over pretty good. Domicile in disarray. Could’ve been a break-in.” “Sexual assault?” Ballard asked. “Her nightgown’s pulled up. She’s exposed.” “Okay, I’m going in. Which one of you brave lads wants to walk me through it?” There were no immediate volunteers. “Deuce, you’ve got the high number,” Dvorek said.

“Shit,” said Doucette. Doucette was the newest officer of the three, so he had the highest serial number. He pulled a blue bandanna up from around his neck and over his mouth and nose. “You look like a fucking Crip,” Anzelone said. “Why, because I’m black?” Doucette asked. “Because you’re wearing a fucking blue bandanna,” Anzelone said. “If it was red, I’d say you look like a fucking Blood.” “Just show her,” Dvorek said. “I really don’t want to be here all night.” Doucette broke off the banter and headed toward the open door of the house.

Ballard followed. “How’d we get this thing so late, anyway?” she asked. “Next-door neighbor got a call from the victim’s niece back in New York,” Doucette said. “Neighbor has a key and the niece asked him to check because the lady wasn’t responding to social media or cell calls for a few days. The neighbor opens the door, gets hit with the funk, and calls us.” “At one o’clock in the morning?” “No, much earlier. But all of PM watch was tied up last night on a caper with a four-five-nine suspect and on a perimeter around Park La Brea till end of watch. Nobody got up here and then it got passed on to us at roll call. We came by as soon as we could.” Ballard nodded.

The perimeter around a robbery suspect sounded suspect to her. More likely, she thought, the buck had been passed shift to shift because nobody wants to work a possible body case that has been cooking in a closed house. “Where’s the neighbor now?” Ballard asked. “Back home,” Doucette said. “Probably taking a shower and sticking VapoRub up his nose. He’s never going to be the same again.” “We gotta get his prints to exclude him, even if he says he didn’t go in.” “Roger that. I’ll get the print car up here.” Snapping on her latex gloves, Ballard followed Doucette over the threshold and into the house.

The breathing mask was almost useless. The putrid odor of death hit her strongly, even though she was breathing through her mouth. Doucette was tall and broad-shouldered. Ballard could see nothing until she was well into the house and had stepped around him. The house was cantilevered out over the hillside, making the view through the floor-to-ceiling glass wall a stunning sheath of twinkling light. Even at this hour, the city seemed alive and pulsing with grand possibilities. “Was it dark in here when you came in?” Ballard asked. “Nothing was on when we got here,” said Doucette. Ballard noted the answer. No lights on could mean that the intrusion occurred during the daytime or late at night, after the homeowner had gone to bed.

She knew that most home invasions were daytime capers. Doucette, who was also wearing gloves, hit a wall switch by the door and turned on a line of ceiling lamps. The interior was an open-loft design, taking advantage of the panorama from any spot in the living room, dining room or kitchen. The staggering view was counterbalanced on the rear wall by three large paintings that were part of a series depicting a woman’s red lips. Ballard noticed broken glass on the floor near the kitchen island but saw no shattered windows. “Any sign of a break-in?” she asked. “Not that we saw,” Doucette said. “There’s broken shit all over the place but no broken windows, no obvious point of entry that we found.” “Okay.” “The body’s down here.

” He moved into a hallway off the living room and held his hand over the bandanna and his mouth as a second line of protection against the intensifying odor. Ballard followed. The house was a single-level contemporary. She guessed it was built in the fifties, when one level was enough. Nowadays anything going up in the hills was multilevel and built to the maximum extent of code. They passed open doorways to a bedroom and a bathroom, then entered a master bedroom that was in disarray with a lamp lying on the floor, its shade dented and bulb shattered. Clothes were strewn haphazardly over the bed, and a long-stemmed glass that had contained what looked like red wine was snapped in two on the white rug, its contents spread in a splash stain. “Here you go,” Doucette said. He pointed through the open door of the bathroom and then stepped back to allow Ballard in first. Ballard stood in the doorway but did not enter the bathroom.

The victim was faceup on the floor. She was a large woman with her arms and legs spread wide. Her eyes were open, her lower lip torn, and her upper right cheek gashed, exposing grayish pink tissue. A halo of dried blood from an unseen scalp wound surrounded her head on the white tile squares. A flannel nightgown with hummingbirds on it was pulled up over the hips and bunched above the abdomen and around the breasts. Her feet were bare and three feet apart. There was no visible bruising or injury to the external genitalia. Ballard could see herself in a floor-to-ceiling mirror on the opposite wall of the room. She squatted down in the doorway and kept her hands on her thighs. She studied the tiled floor for footprints, blood, and other evidence.

Besides the halo that had pooled and dried around the dead woman’s head, an intermittent ribbon of small blood smears was noticeable on the floor between the body and the bedroom. “Deuce, go close the front door,” she said. “Uh, okay,” Doucette said. “Any reason?” “Just do it. Then check the kitchen.” “For what?” “A water bowl on the floor. Go.” Doucette left and Ballard heard his heavy footsteps move back up the hallway. She stood and entered the bathroom, stepping gingerly alongside the wall until she came up close on the body, and squatted again. She leaned down, putting a gloved hand on the tiles for balance, in an attempt to see the scalp wound.

The dead woman’s dark brown hair was too thick and curly for her to locate it. Ballard looked around the room. The bathtub was surrounded by a marble sill holding multiple jars of bath salts and candles burned down to nothing. There was a folded towel on the sill as well. Ballard shifted so she could see into the tub. It was empty but the drain stopper was down. It was the kind with a rubber lip that creates a seal. Ballard reached over, turned on the cold water for a few seconds, and then turned it off. She stood up and stepped over to the edge of the tub. She had put in enough water to surround the drain.

She waited and watched. “There’s a water bowl.” Ballard turned. Doucette was back. “Did you close the front door?” she asked. “It’s closed,” Doucette said. “Okay, look around. I think it’s a cat. Something small. You’ll have to call Animal Control.

” “What?” Ballard pointed down at the dead woman. “An animal did that. A hungry one. They start with the soft tissue.” “Are you fucking kidding me?” Ballard looked back into the tub. Half of the water she had put in was gone. The drain’s rubber seal had a slow leak. “There’s no bleeding with the facial injuries,” she said. “That happened postmortem. The wound on the back of the head is what killed her.

” Doucette nodded. “Someone came up and cracked her skull from behind,” he said. “No,” Ballard said. “It’s an accidental death.” “How?” Doucette asked. Ballard pointed to the array of items on the bathtub sill. “Based on decomp, I’d say it happened three nights ago,” she said. “She turns out the lights in the house to get ready for bed. Probably that lamp on the floor in the bedroom was the one she left on. She comes in here, fills the tub, lights her candles, gets her towel ready.

The hot water steams the tiles and she slips, maybe when she remembered she left her glass of wine on the bed table. Or when she started pulling up the nightgown so she could get in the tub.” “What about the lamp and the spilled wine?” Doucette asked. “The cat.” “So, you just stood here and figured all this out?” Ballard ignored the question. “She was carrying a lot of weight,” she said. “Maybe a sudden redirection as she was getting undressed—‘Oh, I forgot my wine’—causes her to slip and she cracks her skull on the lip of the tub. She’s dead, the candles burn out, the water slowly leaks down the drain.” This explanation only brought silence from Doucette. Ballard looked down at the dead woman’s ravaged face.

“The second day or so, the cat got hungry,” Ballard concluded. “It went a little nuts, then it found her.” “Jesus,” Doucette said. “Get your partner in here, Deuce. Find the cat.” “But wait a minute. If she was about to take a bath, why’s she already in a nightgown? You put the nightgown on after the bath, don’t you?” “Who knows? Maybe she comes home from work or dinner out, gets into nightclothes, gets comfortable, maybe watches TV…then decides to take a bath.” Ballard gestured to the mirror. “She also was obese,” she said. “Maybe she didn’t like looking at herself naked in the mirror.

So she comes home, gets into nightclothes, and stays dressed until it’s time to get in the tub.” Ballard turned to go past Doucette and step out of the room. “Find the cat,” she said. B 2 y three a.m. Ballard had cleared the scene of the death investigation and was back at Hollywood Division, working in a cubicle in the detective bureau. That vast room, which housed the workstations of forty-eight detectives by day, was deserted after midnight and Ballard always had her pick of the place. She chose a desk in the far corner, away from spillover noise and radio chatter from the watch commander’s office down the front hallway. At five, seven she could sit down and disappear behind the computer screen and the half walls of the workstation like a soldier in a foxhole. She could focus and get her report writing done.

The report on the residential break-in that she had rolled on earlier in the night was completed first and now she was ready to type up the death report on the bathtub case. She would classify the death as undetermined pending autopsy. She had covered her bases, called in a crime scene photographer, and documented everything, including the cat. She knew a determination of accidental death might be second-guessed by the victim’s family and maybe even her superiors. She was confident, however, that the autopsy would find no indications of foul play and the death would eventually be ruled accidental. She was working alone. Her partner, John Jenkins, was on bereavement leave. There were no replacements for detectives who worked the late show. Ballard was halfway through the first night of at least a week going solo. It all depended on when Jenkins came back.

His wife had endured a long, painful death from cancer. It had torn him up and Ballard told him to take all the time he needed. She opened her notebook to the page containing the details she had written about the second investigation and then called up a blank incident report on her screen. Before beginning, she dipped her chin and pulled the collar of her blouse up to her nose. She thought she picked up the slight odor of decomposition and death but couldn’t be sure if it had permeated her clothes or was simply an olfactory memory. Still, it meant that her plan to wear the suit again that week was not going to work out. It was going to the cleaners. While her head was down, she heard the metal-on-metal bang of a file drawer being closed. She looked up over the workstation divider to the far side of the bureau, where four-drawer file cabinets ran the length of the room. Every pair of detectives was assigned a four-drawer stack for storage.

But the man Ballard saw now opening another drawer to check its contents was not a detective she recognized, and she knew them all from once-a-month squad meetings that drew her to the station during daylight hours. The man who was checking the cabinets seemingly at random had gray hair and a mustache. Ballard instinctively knew he didn’t belong. She scanned the entire squad room to see if anybody else was there. The rest of the place was deserted. The man opened and closed yet another drawer. Ballard used the sound to cover getting up from her chair. She squatted down and, with the row of work cubicles as a blind, moved to the central aisle, which would allow her to come up behind the intruder without being seen. She had left her suit jacket in the cardboard box in the trunk of her car. This gave her unfettered access to the Glock holstered on her hip.

She put her hand on the grip of the weapon and came to a stop ten feet behind the man. “Hey, what’s up?” she asked. The man froze. He slowly raised his hands out of the open drawer he was looking through and held them so she could see them. “That’s good,” Ballard said. “Now you mind telling me who you are and what you’re doing?” “Name’s Bosch,” he said. “I came in to see somebody.” “What, somebody hiding in the files?” “No, I used to work here. I know Money up front. He told me I could wait in the break room while they called the guy in.

I sort of started wandering. My bad.” Ballard came down from high alert and took her hand off her gun. She recognized the name Bosch, and the fact that he knew the watch commander’s nickname gave her some ease as well. But she was still suspicious. “You kept a key to your old cabinet?” she asked. “No,” Bosch said. “It was unlocked.” Ballard could see the push-in lock at the top of the cabinet was indeed extended in unlocked position. Most detectives kept their files locked.

“You got some ID?” she asked. “Sure,” Bosch said. “But just so you know, I’m a police officer. I have a gun on my left hip and you’re going to see it when I reach back for my ID. Okay?” Ballard brought her hand back up to her hip. “Thanks for the heads-up,” she said. “Tell you what, forget the ID for now. Why don’t we secure the weapon first? Then we’ll—” “There you are, Harry.” Ballard looked to her right and saw Lieutenant Munroe, the watch commander, entering the squad room. Munroe was a thin man who still walked with his hands up near his belt like a street cop, even though he rarely left the confines of the station.

He had modified the belt so it carried only his gun, which was required. All of the other bulky equipment was left in a drawer of his desk. Munroe wasn’t as old as Bosch but he had the mustache that seemed to be standard with cops who came on in the seventies and eighties. He saw Ballard and read her stance. “Ballard, what’s going on?” he asked. “He came in here and was going through the files,” Ballard said. “I didn’t know who he was.” “You can stand down,” Munroe said. “He’s good people—used to work homicide here. Back when we had a homicide table.

” Munroe turned his gaze to Bosch. “Harry, what the hell were you doing?” he asked. Bosch shrugged. “Just checking my old drawers,” he said. “Sort of got tired of waiting.” “Well, Dvorek’s in the house and waiting in the report room,” Munroe said. “And I need you to talk to him now. I don’t like taking him off the street. He’s one of my best guys and I want him back out there.” “Got it,” Bosch said.

Bosch followed Munroe to the front hallway, which led to the watch office and the report-writing room, where Dvorek was waiting. Bosch looked back at Ballard as he went and nodded. Ballard just watched him go. After they were gone, Ballard stepped over to the file drawer Bosch had last been looking in. There was a business card taped to it. That’s what everybody did to mark their drawers. Detective Cesar Rivera Hollywood Sex Crimes Unit She checked the contents. It was only half full and the folders had fallen forward, probably while Bosch was leafing through them. She pushed them back up so they were standing and looked at what Rivera had written on the tabs. They were mostly victim names and case numbers.

Others were marked with the main streets in Hollywood Division, probably containing miscellaneous reports of suspicious activities or persons. She closed the drawer and checked the two above it, remembering that she had heard Bosch open at least three of them. These were like the first, containing case folders primarily listed by victim name, specific sex crime, and case number. At the front of the top drawer she noticed a paper clip that had been bent and twisted. She studied the push-button lock on the top corner of the cabinet. It was a basic model and she knew it could easily have been picked with a paper clip. Security of the records themselves was not a priority, because they were contained in a high-security police station. Ballard closed the drawers, pushed in the lock, and went back to the desk she had been using. She remained intrigued by Bosch’s middle-of-the-night visit. She knew he had used the paper clip to unlock the file cabinet, and that indicated he had more than a casual interest in the contents of its drawers.

His nostalgic story about checking out his old files had been a lie. She picked up the coffee cup on the desk and walked down the hall to the first-floor break room to replenish it. The room was empty, as usual. She refilled and carried the cup over to the watch office. Lieutenant Munroe was at his desk, looking at a deployment screen that showed a map of the division and the GPS markers for the patrol units out there. He didn’t hear Ballard until she came up behind him. “Quiet?” she asked. “For the moment,” Munroe said. Ballard pointed to a cluster of three GPS locators in the same spot. “What’s happening there?” “That’s the Mariscos Reyes truck.

I’ve got three units code seven there.” It was a lunch break at a food truck at Sunset and Western. It made Ballard realize she had not taken a food break and was getting hungry. She wasn’t sure she wanted seafood, however. “So, what did Bosch want?” “He wanted to talk to the Relic about a body he found nine years ago. I take it Bosch is looking into it.” “He said he’s still a cop. Not for us, right?” “Nah, he’s a reserve up in the Valley for San Fernando PD.” “What’s San Fernando got to do with a murder down here?” “I don’t know, Ballard. You shoulda asked him while he was here.

He’s gone now.” “That was quick.” “Because the Relic couldn’t remember shit.” “Is Dvorek back out there?” Munroe pointed to the three-car cluster on the screen. “He’s back out, but code seven at the moment.” “I was thinking about going over there, getting a couple shrimp tacos. You want me to bring you back something?” “No, I’m good. Take a rover with you.” “Roger that.” On the way back to the D bureau she stopped in the break room and dumped the coffee in the sink and rinsed out the cup.

She then pulled a rover out of the charging rack and headed out the back door of the station to her city car. The mid-watch chill had set in and she got her suit jacket out of the trunk and put it on before driving out of the lot. The Relic was still parked at the food truck when Ballard arrived. As a sergeant, Dvorek rode in a solo car, so he had a tendency to hang with other officers on break for the company. “Sally Ride,” he said, when he noticed Ballard studying the chalkboard menu. “What’s up, Sarge?” she said. “Halfway through another night in paradise.” “Yeah.” Ballard ordered one shrimp taco and doused it liberally with one of the hot sauces from the condiment table. She took it over to Dvorek’s black-and-white, where he was leaning against the front fender and finishing his own meal.

Two other patrol officers were eating on the hood of their car, parked in front of his. Ballard leaned against the fender next to him. “Whatcha get?” Dvorek asked. “Shrimp,” Ballard said. “I only order off the blackboard. Means it’s fresh, right? They don’t know what they’ll have until they buy it at the docks.” “If you think so.” “I need to think so.” She took her first bite. It was good and there was no fishy taste.

“Not bad,” she said. “I had the fish special,” Dvorek said. “It’s probably going to take me off the street as soon as it gets down into the lower track.” “T.M.I., Sarge. But speaking of coming in off the street, what did that guy Bosch want with you?” “You saw him?” “I caught him snooping in the files in the D bureau.” “Yeah, he’s kind of desperate. Looking for any angle on a case he’s working.

” “In Hollywood? I thought he worked for San Fernando PD these days.” “He does. But this is a private thing he’s looking into. A girl who got killed here nine years ago. I was the one who found the body, but damn if I could remember much that helped him.” Ballard took another bite and started nodding. She asked the next question with her mouth full of shrimp and tortilla. “Who was the girl?” she asked. “A runaway. Name was Daisy.

She was fifteen and putting it out on the street. Sad case. I used to see her on Hollywood up near Western. One night she got into the wrong car. I found her body in an alley off of Cahuenga. Came in on an anonymous call—I do remember that.” “Was that her street name?” “No, the real thing. Daisy Clayton.” “Was Cesar Rivera working the sex table back then?” “Cesar? I’m not sure. We’re talking nine years ago.

He coulda been.” “Well, did you remember Cesar having anything to do with the case? Bosch picked his file cabinet.” Dvorek shrugged. “I found the body and called it in, Renée—that’s it,” he said. “I had no part in it after that. I remember they sent me down to the end of the alley to string tape and keep people out. I was just a slick sleeve.” Uniformed cops got a hash mark on their sleeves for every five years of service. Nine years ago, the Relic was a near-rookie. Ballard nodded and asked her last question.

“Did Bosch ask you anything I didn’t just ask?” “Yeah, but it wasn’t about her. He asked about Daisy’s boyfriend and whether I ever saw him on the street again after the murder.” “Who was the boyfriend?” “Just another runaway throwaway. I knew him by his graffiti handle: Addict. Bosch said his name was Adam something. I forget. But the answer was no, I never saw him after that. Guys like that come and go.” “Was that all it was—a boyfriend-girlfriend thing?” “They ran together. You know, for protection. Girl like that, she needed a guy out there. Like a pimp. She worked the street, he watched out for her, and they split the profits. Except that night, he dropped the ball. Too bad for her.” Ballard nodded. She guessed that Bosch wanted to talk to Adam/Addict as the person who would know the most about who Daisy Clayton knew and interacted with, and where she went on the last night of her life. He could also have been a suspect. “You know about Bosch, right?” Dvorek asked. “Yeah,” Ballard said. “He worked in the division way back when.” “You know the stars out on the front sidewalk?” “’Course.” There were memorial stars on the sidewalk in front of Hollywood Station honoring officers from the division who were killed in the line of duty. “Well, there’s one out there,” Dvorek said. “Lieutenant Harvey Pounds. The story on him was he was Bosch’s L-T when he worked here, and he got abducted and died of a heart attack when he was being tortured on a case Bosch was working.” Ballard had never heard the story before. “Anybody ever go down for it?” she asked. “Depends on who you talk to,” Dvorek said. “It’s supposedly ‘cleared-other,’ but it’s another mystery in the big bad city. The word was that something Bosch did got the guy killed.” “Cleared-other” was a designation for a case that was officially closed but without an arrest or prosecution. Usually because the suspect was dead or serving a life sentence for another crime, and it was not worth the time, expense, and risk of going to trial on a case that would not result in additional punishment. “Supposedly the file on it is sealed. High jingo.” “High jingo” was LAPD-speak for when a case involved department politics. The kind of case where a career could be diverted by a wrong move. The information on Bosch was interesting but not on point. Before Ballard could think of a question that would steer Dvorek back toward the Daisy Clayton case, his rover squawked and he took a call from the watch office. Ballard listened as Lieutenant Munroe dispatched him to a Beachwood Canyon address to supervise a team responding to a domestic dispute. “Gotta go,” he said as he balled up the foil his tacos had come in. “Unless you want to ride along and back me up.” It was said in jest, Ballard knew. The Relic didn’t need backup from the late show detective. “I’ll see you back at the barn,” she said. “Unless that goes sideways and you need a detective.” She hoped not. Domestics usually ended up being he-said-she-said deals in which she acted more as a referee than a detective. Even obvious physical injuries didn’t always tell the tale. “Roger that,” Dvorek said.

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