Excerpts for Black Box


The Black Box


By Michael Connelly

Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2012 Michael Connelly
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316069434

Snow White

1992


 

By the third night the death count was rising so high and so quickly that many of the divisional homicide teams were pulled off the front lines of riot control and put into emergency rotations in South Central. Detective Harry Bosch and his partner, Jerry Edgar, were pulled from Hollywood Division and assigned to a roving B Watch team that also included two shotgunners from patrol for protection. They were dispatched to any place they were needed—wherever a body turned up. The four-man team moved in a black-and-white patrol car, jumping from crime scene to crime scene and never staying still for long. It wasn’t the proper way to carry out homicide work, not even close, but it was the best that could be done under the surreal circumstances of a city that had come apart at the seams.

South Central was a war zone. Fires burned everywhere. Looters moved in packs from storefront to storefront, all semblance of dignity and moral code gone in the smoke that rose over the city. The gangs of South L.A. stepped up to control the darkness, even calling for a truce to their internecine battles to create a united front against the police.

More than fifty people had died already. Store owners had shot looters, National Guardsmen had shot looters, looters had shot looters, and then there were the others—killers who used the camouflage of chaos and civil unrest to settle long-held scores that had nothing to do with the frustrations of the moment and the emotions displayed in the streets.

Two days before, the racial, social, and economic fractures that ran under the city broke the surface with seismic intensity. The trial of four LAPD officers accused of excessively beating a black motorist at the end of a high-speed chase had resulted in the delivery of not-guilty verdicts. The reading of the jury’s decision in a suburban courtroom forty-five miles away had an almost immediate impact on South Los Angeles. Small crowds of angry people gathered on street corners to decry the injustice. And soon things turned violent. The ever-vigilant media went high and live from the air, broadcasting the images into every home in the city, and then to the world.

The department was caught flat-footed. The chief of police was out of Parker Center and making a political appearance when the verdict came in. Other members of the command staff were out of position as well. No one immediately took charge and, more important, no one went to the rescue. The whole department retreated and the images of unchecked violence spread like wildfire across every television screen in the city. Soon the city was out of control and in flames.

Two nights later, the acrid smell of burning rubber and smoldering dreams was still everywhere. Flames from a thousand fires reflected like the devil dancing in the dark sky. Gunshots and shouts of anger echoed nonstop in the wake of the patrol car. But the four men in 6-King-16 did not stop for any of these. They stopped only for murder.

It was Friday, May 1. B Watch was the emergency mobilization designation for night watch, a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift. Bosch and Edgar had the backseat, while Officers Robleto and Delwyn had the front. Delwyn, in the passenger seat, held his shotgun across his lap and angled up, its muzzle poking through the open window.

They were rolling to a dead body found in an alley off Crenshaw Boulevard. The call had been relayed to the emergency communications center by the California National Guard, which had been deployed in the city during the state of emergency. It was only 10:30 and the calls were stacking up. King-16 had already handled a homicide call since coming on shift—a looter shot dead in the doorway of a discount shoe store. The shooter had been the store’s owner.

That crime scene was contained within the premises of the business, which had allowed Bosch and Edgar to work with relative safety, Robleto and Delwyn posted with shotguns and full riot gear on the sidewalk out front. And that also gave the detectives time to collect evidence, sketch the crime scene, and take their own photos. They recorded the statement of the store owner and watched the videotape from the business’s surveillance camera. It showed the looter using an aluminum softball bat to smash through the glass door of the store. The man then ducked in through the jagged opening he had created and was promptly shot twice by the store owner, who was hiding behind the cash counter and waiting.

Because the coroner’s office was overrun with more death calls than it could handle, the body was removed from the store by paramedics and transported to County-USC Medical Center. It would be held there until things calmed down—if they ever did—and the coroner caught up with the work.

As far as the shooter went, Bosch and Edgar made no arrest. Whether it was self-defense or murder while lying in wait, the DA’s Office would make the call later.

It was not the right way to proceed but it would have to do. In the chaos of the moment, the mission was simple: preserve the evidence, document the scene as well and as fast as possible, and collect the dead.

Get in and get out. And do it safely. The real investigation would come later. Maybe.

As they drove south on Crenshaw, they passed occasional crowds of people, mostly young men, gathered on corners or roving in packs. At Crenshaw and Slauson a group flying Crips colors jeered as the patrol car moved by at high speed without siren or flashing lights. Bottles and rocks were thrown but the car moved too fast and the missiles fell harmlessly behind it.

“We’ll be back, muthafuckers! Don’t you worry.”

It was Robleto who had called out and Bosch had to assume he was speaking metaphorically. The young patrolman’s threat was as hollow as the department’s response had been once the verdicts were read on live TV Wednesday afternoon.

Robleto, behind the wheel, only began to slow as they approached a blockade of National Guard vehicles and soldiers. The strategy drawn up the day before with the arrival of the Guard was to take back control of the major intersections in South L.A. and then move outward, eventually containing all trouble spots. They were less than a mile from one of those key intersections, Crenshaw and Florence, and the Guard troops and vehicles were already spread up and down Crenshaw for blocks. As he pulled up to the barricade at 62nd Street, Robleto lowered his window.

A guardsman with sergeant stripes came to the door and leaned down to look at the car’s occupants.

“Sergeant Burstin, San Luis Obispo. What can I do for you fellows?”

“Homicide,” Robleto said. He hooked a thumb toward Bosch and Edgar in the back.

Burstin straightened up and made an arm motion so that a path could be cleared and they could be let through.

“Okay,” he said. “She’s in the alley on the east side between Sixty-sixth Place and Sixty-seventh Street. Go on through and my guys will show you. We’ll form a tight perimeter and watch the rooflines. We’ve had unconfirmed reports of sniper fire in the neighborhood.”

Robleto put his window back up as he drove through.

“‘My guys,’” he said, mimicking Burstin’s voice. “That guy’s probably a schoolteacher or something back in the real world. I heard that none of these guys they brought in are even from L.A. From all around the state but not L.A. Probably couldn’t find Leimert Park with a map.”

“Two years ago, neither could you, dude,” Delwyn said.

“Whatever. The guy doesn’t know shit about this place and now he’s all like take charge? Fucking weekend warrior. All I’m saying is we didn’t need these guys. Makes us look bad. Like we couldn’t handle it and had to bring in the pros from San Luis O-fucking-bispo.”

Edgar cleared his throat and spoke from the backseat.

“I got news for you,” he said. “We couldn’t handle it and we couldn’t look any worse than we already did Wednesday night. We sat back and let the city burn, man. You see all that shit on TV? The thing you didn’t see was any of us on the ground kicking ass. So don’t be blaming the schoolteachers from ’Bispo. It’s on us, man.”

“Whatever,” Robleto said.

“Says ‘Protect and Serve’ on the side a the car,” Edgar added. “We didn’t do much of either.”

Bosch remained silent. Not that he disagreed with his partner. The department had embarrassed itself with its feeble response to the initial breakout of violence. But Harry wasn’t thinking about that. He had been struck by what the sergeant had said about the victim being a she. It was the first mention of that, and as far as Bosch knew, there hadn’t been any female murder victims so far. This wasn’t to say that women weren’t involved in the violence that had raked the city. Looting and burning were equal-opportunity endeavors. Bosch had seen women engaged in both. The night before, he’d been on riot control on Hollywood Boulevard and had witnessed the looting of Frederick’s, the famous lingerie store. Half the looters had been women.

But the sergeant’s report had given him pause nonetheless. A woman had been out here in the chaos and it had cost her her life.

Robleto drove through the opening in the barricade and continued south. Four blocks ahead a soldier was waving a flashlight, swinging its beam toward an opening between two of the retail shops that lined the east side of the street.

Aside from soldiers posted every twenty-five yards, Crenshaw was abandoned. There was an eerie and dark stillness. All of the businesses on both sides of the streets were dark. Several had been hit by looters and arsonists. Others had miraculously been left untouched. On still others, boarded-up fronts announced with spray paint that they were “Black Owned,” a meager defense against the mob.

The alley opening was between a looted wheel-and-tire shop called Dream Rims and a completely burned-out appliance store called Used, Not Abused. The burned building was wrapped with yellow tape and had been red-tagged by city inspectors as uninhabitable. Bosch guessed that this area had been hit early in the riots. They were only twenty blocks or so from the spot where the violence had initially sparked at the intersection of Florence and Normandie, the place where people were pulled from cars and trucks and beaten while the world watched from above.

The guardsman with the flashlight started walking ahead of 6-K-16, leading the car into the alley. Thirty feet in, the guardsman stopped and held up his hand in a fist, as if they were on recon behind enemy lines. It was time to get out. Edgar hit Bosch on the arm with the back of his hand.

“Remember, Harry, keep your distance. A nice six-foot separation at all times.”

It was a joke meant to lighten the situation. Of the four men in the car, only Bosch was white. He’d be the likely first target of a sniper. Of any shooter, for that matter.

“Got it,” Bosch said.

Edgar punched his arm again.

“And put your hat on.”

Bosch reached down to the floorboard and grabbed the white riot helmet he had been issued at roll call. The order was to wear it at all times while on duty. He thought the shiny white plastic, more than anything else, made them targets.

He and Edgar had to wait until Robleto and Delwyn got out and opened the rear doors of the cruiser for them. Bosch then finally stepped out into the night. He reluctantly put the helmet on but didn’t snap the chinstrap. He wanted to smoke a cigarette but time was of the essence, and he was down to a final smoke in the pack he carried in the left pocket of his uniform shirt. He had to conserve that one, as he had no idea when or where he would get the chance to replenish.

Bosch looked around. He didn’t see a body. The alley was clotted with debris old and new. Old appliances, apparently not worthy of resale, had been stacked against the side wall of Used, Not Abused. Trash was everywhere, and part of the eave had collapsed to the ground during the fire.

“Where is she?” he asked.

“Over here,” the guardsman said. “Against the wall.”

The alley was lit only by the patrol car’s lights and the guardsman’s flashlight. The appliances and other debris threw shadows against the wall and the ground. Bosch turned on his MagLite and aimed its beam in the direction the guardsman had pointed. The wall of the appliance shop was covered with gang graffiti. Names, RIPs, threats—the wall was a message board for the local Crips set, the Rolling 60s.

He walked three steps behind the guardsman and soon he saw her. A small woman lying on her side at the bottom of the wall. She had been obscured by the shadow cast by a rusting-out washing machine.

Before approaching any farther, Bosch played his light across the ground. At one point in time the alley was paved but now it was broken concrete, gravel, and dirt. He saw no footprints or evidence of blood. He slowly moved forward and squatted down. He rested the heavy barrel of the six-cell flashlight on his shoulder as he moved its beam over the body. From his long experience looking at dead people, he guessed she had been deceased at least twelve to twenty-four hours. The legs were bent sharply at the knees and he knew that could be the result of rigor mortis or an indication that she had been on her knees in the moments before her death. The skin that was visible on the arms and neck was ashen and dark where blood had coagulated. Her hands were almost black and the odor of putrefaction was beginning to permeate the air.

The woman’s face was largely obscured by the long blond hair that had fallen across it. Dried blood was visible in the hair at the back of the head and was matted in the thick wave that obscured her face. Bosch moved the light up the wall above the body and saw a blood spatter-and-drip pattern that indicated she had been killed here, not just dumped.

Bosch took a pen out of his pocket and reached forward, using it to lift the hair back from the victim’s face. There was gunshot stippling around the right eye socket and a penetration wound that had exploded the eyeball. She had been shot from only inches away. Front to back, point-blank range. He put the pen back in his pocket and leaned in farther, pointing the light down behind her head. The exit wound, large and jagged, was visible. Death had no doubt been instantaneous.

“Holy shit, is she white?”

It was Edgar. He had come up behind Bosch and was looking over his shoulder like an umpire hovering over a baseball catcher.

“Looks like it,” Bosch said.

He moved the light over the victim’s body now.

“What the hell’s a white girl doing down here?”

Bosch didn’t answer. He had noticed something hidden under the right arm. He put his light down so he could pull on a set of gloves.

“Put your light on her chest,” he instructed Edgar.

Gloves on, Bosch leaned back in toward the body. The victim was on her left side, her right arm extending across her chest and hiding something that was on a cord around her neck. Bosch gently pulled it free.

It was a bright orange LAPD press pass. Bosch had seen many of them over the years. This one looked new. Its lamination sleeve was still clear and unscratched. It had a mug shot–style photo of a woman with blond hair on it. Beneath it was her name and the media entity she worked for.

Anneke Jespersen

Berlingske Tidende

“She’s foreign press,” Bosch said. “Anneke Jespersen.”

“From where?” Edgar asked.

“I don’t know. Germany, maybe. It says Berlin…Berlin-something. I can’t pronounce it.”

“Why would they send somebody all the way over from Germany for this? Can’t they mind their own business over there?”

“I don’t know for sure if she’s from Germany. I can’t tell.”

Bosch tuned out Edgar’s chatter and studied the photograph on the press pass. The woman depicted was attractive even in a mug shot. No smile, no makeup, all business, her hair hooked behind her ears, her skin so pale as to be almost translucent. Her eyes had distance in them. Like the cops and soldiers Bosch had known who had seen too much too soon.

Bosch turned the press pass over. It looked legit to him. He knew press passes were updated yearly and a validation sticker was needed for any member of the media to enter department news briefings or pass through media checkpoints at crime scenes. This pass had a 1992 sticker on it. It meant that the victim received it sometime in the last 120 days, but noting the pristine condition of the pass, Bosch believed it had been recently.

Harry went back to studying the body. The victim was wearing blue jeans and a vest over a white shirt. It was an equipment vest with bulging pockets. This told Bosch that it was likely that the woman had been a photographer. But there were no cameras on her body or nearby. They had been taken, and possibly had even been the motive for the murder. Most news photographers he had seen carried multiple high-quality cameras and related equipment.

Harry reached to the vest and opened one of the breast pockets. Normally this would be something he would ask a coroner’s investigator to do, as jurisdiction of the body belonged to the County Medical Examiner’s Office. But Bosch had no idea if a coroner’s crew would even show at the crime scene, and he wasn’t going to wait to find out.

The pocket held four black film canisters. He didn’t know if this was film that had been shot or was unused. He rebuttoned the pocket and in doing so felt a hard surface beneath it. He knew rigor mortis comes and goes in a day, leaving the body soft and movable. He pulled back the equipment vest and knocked a fist on the chest. It was a hard surface and the sound confirmed this. The victim was wearing a bulletproof vest.

“Hey, check out the hit list,” Edgar said.

Bosch looked up from the body. Edgar’s flashlight was now aimed at the wall above. The graffiti directly over the victim was a 187 count, or hit list, with the names of several bangers who had gone down in street battles. Ken Dog, G-Dog, OG Nasty, Neckbone, and so on. The crime scene was in the Rolling 60s territory. The 60s were a subset of the massive Crips gang. They were at endless war with the nearby 7-Treys, another Crips subset.

The general public was for the most part under the impression that the gang wars that gripped most of South L.A. and claimed victims every night of the week came down to a Bloods versus Crips battle for supremacy and control of the streets. But the reality was that the rivalries between subsets of the same gang were some of the most violent in the city and largely responsible for the weekly body counts. The Rolling 60s and 7-Treys were at the top of that list. Both Crips sets operated under kill-on-sight protocols and the score was routinely noted in the neighborhood graffiti. A RIP list was used to memorialize homies lost in the endless battle, while a lineup of names under a 187 heading was a hit list, a record of kills.

“Looks like what we’ve got here is Snow White and the Seven-Trey Crips,” Edgar added.

Bosch shook his head, annoyed. The city had come off its hinges, and here in front of them was the result—a woman put up against a wall and executed—and his partner didn’t seem to be able to take it seriously.

Edgar must have read Bosch’s body language.

“It’s just a joke, Harry,” he said quickly. “Lighten up. We need some gallows humor around here.”

“Okay,” Bosch said. “I’ll lighten up while you go get on the radio. Tell them what we’ve got here, make sure they know it’s a member of the out-of-town media and see if they’ll give us a full team. If not that, at least a photographer and some lights. Tell them we could really use some time and some help on this one.”

“Why? ’Cause she’s white?”

Bosch took a moment before responding. It was a careless thing for Edgar to have said. He was hitting back because Bosch had not responded well to the Snow White quip.

“No, not because she’s white,” Bosch said evenly. “Because she’s not a looter and she’s not a gangbanger and because they better believe that the media is going to jump all over a case involving one of their own. Okay? Is that good enough?”

“Got it.”

“Good.”

Edgar went back to the car to use the radio and Bosch returned to his crime scene. The first thing he did was delineate the perimeter. He backed several of the guardsmen down the alley so he could create a zone that extended twenty feet on either side of the body. The third and fourth sides of the box were the wall of the appliance shop on one side and the wall of the rims store on the other.

As he marked it off, Bosch noted that the alley cut through a residential block that was directly behind the row of retail businesses that fronted Crenshaw. There was no uniformity in the containment of the backyards that lined the alley. Some of the homes had concrete walls, while others had wood-slat or chain-link fences.

Bosch knew that in a perfect world he would search all those yards and knock on all those doors, but that would have to come later, if at all. His attention at the moment had to be focused on the immediate crime scene. If he got the chance to canvas the neighborhood, he would consider himself lucky.

Bosch noticed that Robleto and Delwyn had taken positions with their shotguns at the mouth of the alley. They were standing next to each other and talking, probably sharing a complaint about something. Back in Bosch’s Vietnam days, that would have been called a sniper’s two-for-one sale.

There were eight guardsmen posted inside the alley on the interior perimeter. Bosch noticed that a group of people were beginning to congregate and watch from the far end. He waved over the guardsman who had led them into the alley.

“What’s your name, soldier?”

“Drummond, but everyone calls me Drummer.”

“Okay, Drummer, I’m Detective Bosch. Tell me who found her.”

“The body? That was Dowler. He came back here to take a leak and he found her. He said he could smell her first. He knew the smell.”

“Where’s Dowler now?”

“I think he’s on post at the southern barricade.”

“I need to talk to him. Will you get him for me?”

“Yes, sir.”

Drummond started to move toward the entrance of the alley.

“Hold on, Drummer, I’m not done.”

Drummond turned around.

“When did you deploy to this location?”

“We’ve been here since eighteen hundred yesterday, sir.”

“So you’ve had control of this area since then? This alley?”

“Not exactly, sir. We started at Crenshaw and Florence last night and we’ve worked east on Florence and north on Crenshaw. It’s been block by block.”

“So when did you get to this alley?”

“I’m not sure. I think we had it covered by dawn today.”

“And all the looting and burning in this immediate area, that was already over?”

“Yes, sir, happened first night, from what I’ve been told.”

“Okay, Drummer, one last thing. We need more light. Can you bring back here one of those trucks you have with all the lights on top?”

“It’s called a Humvee, sir.”

“Yeah, well, bring one back here from that end of the alley. Come in past those people and point the lights right at my crime scene. You got it?”

“Got it, sir.”

Bosch pointed to the end opposite the patrol car.

“Good. I want to create a cross-hatching of light here, okay? It’s probably going to be the best we can do.”

“Yes, sir.”

He started to trot away.

“Hey, Drummer.”

Drummond turned around once more and came back.

“Yes, sir.”

Bosch whispered now.

“All your guys are watching me. Shouldn’t they be turned around, eyes out?”

Drummond stepped back and twirled his finger over his head.

“Hey! Turn it around, eyes out. We’ve got a job here. Keep the watch.”

He pointed down the alley toward the gathering of onlookers.

“And make sure we keep those people back.”

The guardsmen did as they were told and Drummond headed out of the alley to radio Dowler and get the light truck.

Bosch’s pager buzzed on his hip. He reached to his belt and snapped the device out of its holder. The number on the screen was the command post, and he knew he and Edgar were about to be given another call. They hadn’t even started here and they were going to be yanked. He didn’t want that. He put the pager back on his belt.

Bosch walked over to the first fence that started from the back corner of the appliance shop. It was a wood-slat barrier that was too tall for him to look over. But he noticed it had been freshly painted. There was no graffiti, not even on the alley side of it. He noted this because it indicated that there was a homeowner on the other side who cared enough to whitewash the graffiti. Maybe it was the kind of person who kept their own watch and might have heard or even seen something.

From there he crossed the alley and dropped to a squatting position at the far corner of the crime scene. Like a fighter in his corner, waiting to come out. He started playing the beam of his flashlight across the broken concrete-and-dirt surface of the alley. At the oblique angle, the light refracted off the myriad surface planes, giving him a unique view. Soon enough he saw the glint of something shiny and held the beam on it. He moved in on the spot and found a brass bullet casing lying in the gravel.

He got down on his hands and knees so he could look closely at the casing without moving it. He moved the light in close and saw that it was a 9mm brass casing with the familiar Remington brand mark stamped on the flat base. There was an indentation from the firing pin on the primer. Bosch also noted that the casing was lying on top of the gravel bed. It had not been stepped on or run over in what he assumed was a busy alleyway. That told him that the casing had not been there long.

Bosch was looking around for something to mark the casing’s location with when Edgar stepped back into the crime scene. He was carrying a toolbox and that told Bosch that they weren’t going to get any help.

“Harry, what’d you find?”

“Nine-millimeter Remington. Looks fresh.”

“Well, at least we found something useful.”

“Maybe. You get the CP?”

Edgar put down the toolbox. It was heavy. It contained the equipment they had quickly gathered in the kit room at Hollywood Station once they heard they could not count on any forensic backup in the field.

“Yeah, I got through but it’s no-can-do from the command post. Everybody’s otherwise engaged. We’re on our own out here, brother.”

“No coroner, either?”

“No coroner. The National Guard’s coming with a truck for her. A troop transporter.”

“You gotta be kidding me. They’re going to move her in a fucking flatbed?”

“Not only that, we got our next call already. A crispy critter. Fire Department found him in a burned-out taco shop on MLK.”

“Goddamnit, we just got here.”

“Yeah, well, we’re up again and we’re closest to MLK. So they want us to clear and steer.”

“Yeah, well, we’re not done here. Not by a long shot.”

“Nothing we can do about it, Harry.”

Bosch was obstinate.

“I’m not leaving yet. There’s too much to do here and if we leave it till next week or whenever, then we’ve lost the crime scene. We can’t do that.”

“We don’t have a choice, partner. We don’t make the rules.”

“Bullshit.”

“Okay, tell you what. We give it fifteen minutes. We take a few pictures, bag the casing, put the body on the truck, and then we shuffle on down the road. Come Monday, or whenever this is over, it isn’t even going to be our case anymore. We go back to Hollywood after everything calms down and this thing stays right here. Somebody else’s case then. This is Seventy-seventh’s turf. It’ll be their problem.”

It didn’t matter to Bosch what came later, whether the case went to detectives at 77th Street Division or not. What mattered was what was in front of him. A woman named Anneke from someplace far away lay dead and he wanted to know who did it and why.

“Doesn’t matter that it’s not going to be our case,” he said. “That’s not the point.”

“Harry, there is no point,” Edgar said. “Not now, not with complete chaos all around us. Nothing matters right now, man. The city is out of control. You can’t expect—”

The sudden rip of automatic gunfire split the air. Edgar dove to the ground and Bosch instinctively threw himself toward the wall of the appliance shop. His helmet went flying off. Bursts of gunfire from several of the guardsmen followed until finally the shooting was quelled by shouting.

“Hold your fire! Hold your fire! Hold your fire!”

The gunshots ended and Burstin, the sergeant from the barricade, came running up the alley. Bosch saw Edgar slowly getting up. He appeared to be unharmed but he was looking at Bosch with an odd expression.

“Who opened first?” the sergeant yelled. “Who fired?”

“Me,” said one of the men in the alley. “I thought I saw a weapon on the roofline.”

“Where, soldier? What roofline? Where was the sniper?”

“Over there.”

The shooter pointed to the roofline of the rims store.

“Goddamnit!” the sergeant yelled. “Hold your fucking fire. We cleared that roof. There’s nobody up there but us! Our people!”

“Sorry, sir. I saw the—”

“Son, I don’t give a flying fuck what you saw. You get any of my people killed and I will personally frag your ass myself.”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”

Bosch stood up. His ears were ringing and his nerves jangling. The sudden spit of automatic fire wasn’t new to him. But it had been almost twenty-five years since it was a routine part of his life. He went over and picked up his helmet and put it back on.

Sergeant Burstin walked up to him.

“Continue your work, Detectives. If you need me I’ll be on the north perimeter. We have a truck coming in for the remains. I understand that we are to provide a team to escort your car to another location and another body.”

He then charged out of the alley.

“Jesus Christ, you believe that?” Edgar asked. “Like Desert Storm or something. Vietnam. What the hell are we doing here, man?”

“Let’s just go to work,” Bosch said. “You draw the crime scene, I’ll work the body, take pictures. Let’s move.”

Bosch squatted down and opened the toolbox. He wanted to get a photograph of the bullet casing in place before he bagged it as evidence. Edgar kept talking. The adrenaline rush from the shooting was not dissipating. He talked a lot when he was hyper. Sometimes too much.

“Harry, did you see what you did when that yahoo opened up with the gun?”

“Yeah, I ducked like everybody else.”

“No, Harry, you covered the body. I saw it. You shielded Snow White over there like she was still alive or something.”

Bosch didn’t respond. He lifted the top tray out of the toolbox and reached in for the Polaroid camera. He noted that they only had two packs of film left. Sixteen shots plus whatever was left in the camera. Maybe twenty shots total, and they had this scene and the one waiting on MLK. It was not enough. His frustration was peaking.

“What was that about, Harry?” Edgar persisted.

Bosch finally lost it and barked at his partner.

“I don’t know! Okay? I don’t know. So let’s just go to work now and try to do something for her, so maybe, just maybe, somebody sometime will be able to make a case.”

His outburst had drawn the attention of most of the guardsmen in the alley. The soldier who had started the shooting earlier stared hard at him, happy to pass the mantle of unwanted attention.

“Okay, Harry,” Edgar said quietly. “Let’s go to work. We do what we can. Fifteen minutes and then we’re on to the next one.”

Bosch nodded as he looked down at the dead woman. Fifteen minutes, he thought. He was resigned. He knew the case was lost before it had even started.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Part One

The Gun Walk

2012

1

They made him wait. The explanation was that Coleman was at chow and pulling him out would create a problem because after the interview they would have to reinsert him into the second meal block, where he might have enemies unknown to the guard staff. Someone could make a move against him and the guards wouldn’t see it coming. They didn’t want that, so they told Bosch to hang loose for forty minutes while Coleman finished his Salisbury steak and green beans, sitting at a picnic table in D yard in the comfort and safety of numbers. All the Rolling 60s at San Quentin shared the same food and rec blocks.

Bosch passed the time by studying his props and rehearsing his play. It was all on him. No help from a partner. He was by himself. Cutbacks in the department’s travel budget had turned almost all prison visits into solo missions.

Bosch had taken the first flight up that morning and hadn’t thought about the timing of his arrival. The delay wouldn’t matter in the long run. He wasn’t flying back till 6 p.m. and the interview with Rufus Coleman probably wouldn’t take long. Coleman would either go for the offer or not. Either way, Bosch wouldn’t be long with him.

The interview room was a steel cubicle with a built-in table dividing it. Bosch sat on one side, a door directly behind him. Across the table from him was an equal-size space with a matching door. They would bring Coleman through there, he knew.

Bosch was working the twenty-year-old murder of Anneke Jespersen, a photographer and journalist shot to death during the 1992 riots. Harry had worked the case and the crime scene for less than an hour back then before being pulled away to work other murders in a crazy night of violence that had him moving from case to case.

After the riots ended, the department formed the Riot Crimes Task Force, and the investigation of the Jespersen murder was taken over by that unit. It was never solved and after ten years of being classified as open and active, the investigation and what little evidence had been gathered was quietly boxed up and placed in archives. It wasn’t until the twentieth anniversary of the riots was approaching that the media-savvy chief of police sent a directive to the lieutenant in charge of the Open-Unsolved Unit ordering a fresh look at all unsolved murders that occurred during the unrest in 1992. The chief wanted to be ready when the media started their inquiries in regard to their twenty-years-later stories. The department might have been caught flat-footed back in ’92, but it wouldn’t be in 2012. The chief wanted to be able to say that all unsolved murders from the riots were still under active investigation.

Bosch specifically asked for the Anneke Jespersen case and after twenty years returned to it. Not without misgivings. He knew that most cases were solved within the first forty-eight hours and after that the chances of clearance dropped markedly. This case had barely been worked for even one of those forty-eight hours. It had been neglected because of circumstances, and Bosch had always felt guilty about it, as though he had abandoned Anneke Jespersen. No homicide detective likes leaving a case behind unsolved, but in this situation Bosch was given no choice. The case was taken from him. He could easily blame the investigators that followed him on it, but Bosch had to count himself among those responsible. The investigation started with him at the crime scene. He couldn’t help but feel that no matter how short a time he was there, he must have missed something.

Now, twenty years later, he got another shot at it. And it was a very long shot at that. He believed that every case had a black box. A piece of evidence, a person, a positioning of facts that brought a certain understanding and helped explain what had happened and why. But with Anneke Jespersen, there was no black box. Just a pair of musty cardboard boxes retrieved from archives that gave Bosch little direction or hope. The boxes included the victim’s clothing and bulletproof vest, her passport, and other personal items, as well as a backpack and the photographic equipment retrieved from her hotel room after the riots. There was also the single 9mm shell casing found at the crime scene, and the thin investigative file put together by the Riot Crimes Task Force. The so-called murder book.

The murder book was largely a record of inactivity on the case on the part of the RCTF. The task force had operated for a year and had had hundreds of crimes, including dozens of murders, to investigate. It was almost as overwhelmed as investigators like Bosch had been during the actual riots.

The RCTF had put up billboards in South L.A. that advertised a telephone tip line and rewards for information leading to arrests and convictions for riot-related crimes. Different billboards carried different photos of suspects or crime scenes or victims. Three of them carried a photo of Anneke Jespersen and asked for any information on her movements and murder.

The unit largely worked off what came in from the billboards and other public outreach programs and pursued cases where there was solid information. But nothing of value ever came in on Jespersen and so nothing ever came of the investigation. The case was a dead end. Even the one piece of evidence from the crime scene—the bullet casing—wasn’t of value without a gun to match it to.

In his survey of the archived records and case effects, Bosch found that the most noteworthy information gathered from the first investigation was about the victim. Jespersen was thirty-two years old and from Denmark, not Germany as Bosch had thought for twenty years. She worked for a Copenhagen newspaper called Berlingske Tidende, where she was a photojournalist in the truest sense of the word. She wrote stories and shot film. She had been a war correspondent who documented the world’s skirmishes with both words and pictures.

She had arrived in Los Angeles the morning after the riots had started. And she was dead by the next morning. In the following weeks, the Los Angeles Times ran short profiles of all those killed during the violence. The story on Jespersen quoted her editor and her brother back in Copenhagen and depicted the journalist as a risk taker who was always quick to volunteer for assignments in the world’s danger zones. In the four years prior to her death, she had covered conflicts in Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Senegal, and El Salvador.

The unrest in Los Angeles was hardly on the level of war or some of the other armed conflicts she had photographed and reported on, but according to the Times, she happened to be traveling across the United States on vacation when rioting in the City of Angels broke out. She promptly called the photo desk at the BT, as the newspaper in Copenhagen was more commonly known, and left a message with her editor saying that she was heading to L.A. from San Francisco. But she was dead before she had filed any photos or a story with the newspaper. Her editor had never spoken to her after getting the message.

After the RCTF was disbanded, the unsolved Jespersen case was assigned to the homicide squad at 77th Street Division, the geographical policing area where the murder occurred. Given to new detectives with their own backup of open cases, the investigation was shelved. The notations in the investigative chronology were few and far between and largely just a record of the outside interest in the case. The LAPD wasn’t working the case with anything approaching fervor, but her family and those who knew Jespersen in the international journalism community did not give up hope. The chronology included records of their frequent inquiries about the case. These marked the record right up until the case files and effects were sent to archives. After that, those who inquired about Anneke Jespersen were most likely ignored, as was the case they were calling about.

Curiously, the victim’s personal belongings were never returned to her family. The archive boxes contained the backpack and property that was turned over to the police several days after the murder, when the manager of the Travelodge on Santa Monica Boulevard matched the name on a riot victim list printed in the Times to the guest registry. It had been thought that Anneke Jespersen had skipped out on her room. The belongings she had left behind were put in a locked storage closet at the motel. Once the manager determined that Jespersen wasn’t coming back because she was dead, the backpack containing her property was delivered to the RCTF, which was working out of temporary offices at Central Division in downtown.

The backpack was in one of the archive boxes that Bosch had retrieved from case storage. It contained two pairs of jeans, four white cotton shirts, and assorted underwear and socks. Jespersen obviously traveled light, packing like a war correspondent even for a vacation. This was probably because she was heading straight back to war following her vacation in the United States. Her editor had told the Times that the newspaper was sending Jespersen directly from the States to Sarajevo in the former Yugoslavia, where war had broken out just a few weeks earlier. Reports of mass rapes and ethnic cleansing were breaking in the media, and Jespersen was heading to the center of the war, due to leave the Monday after the riots erupted in Los Angeles. She probably considered the quick stop by L.A. to snap shots of rioters just a warm-up for what awaited in Bosnia.

Also in the pockets of the backpack were Jespersen’s Danish passport along with several packages of unused 35mm film.

Jespersen’s passport showed an INS entry stamp at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York six days before her death. According to the investigative records and the newspaper accounts, she had been traveling by herself and had made it to San Francisco when the verdicts came down in Los Angeles and the violence began.

None of the records or news stories accounted for where in the United States Jespersen had been during the five days leading up to the riots. It apparently wasn’t seen as germane to the investigation of her death.

What did seem clear was that the breakout of violence in Los Angeles was a strong pull to Jespersen and she immediately diverted, apparently driving through the night to Los Angeles in a rental car she had picked at San Francisco International. On Thursday morning, April 30, she presented her passport and Danish press credentials at the LAPD media office in order to get a press pass.

Bosch had spent most of 1969 and 1970 in Vietnam. He had encountered many journalists and photographers in the base camps and out in fire zones as well. In all of them, he had seen a unique form of fearlessness. Not a warrior’s fearlessness but almost a naive belief in one’s ultimate survival. It was as though they believed that their cameras and press passes were shields that would save them, no matter the circumstance.

He had known one photographer particularly well. His name was Hank Zinn and he worked for the Associated Press. He had once followed Bosch into a tunnel in Cu Chi. Zinn was the kind of guy who never turned down an opportunity to go out into Indian country and get what he called “the real thing.” He died in early 1970 when a Huey he had jumped on for transport to the front was shot down. One of his cameras was recovered intact in the debris field and somebody at base developed the film. It turned out Zinn was shooting frames the whole time the chopper was taking fire and then going down. Whether he was valiantly documenting his own death or thinking he was going to have great shots to file when he got back to base camp could never be known. But knowing Zinn, Bosch believed he thought he was invincible and the chopper crash would not be the end of the line.

As Bosch took up the Jespersen case after so many years, he wondered if Anneke Jespersen had been like Zinn. Sure of her invincibility, sure that her camera and press pass would lead her through the fire. There was no doubt that she had put herself in harm’s way. He wondered what her last thought was when her killer pointed the gun at her eye. Was she like Zinn? Had she taken his picture?

According to a list provided by her editor in Copenhagen and contained in the RCTF investigation file, Jespersen carried a pair of Nikon 4s and a variety of lenses. Of course, her field equipment was taken and never recovered. Whatever filmed clues might have been in her cameras were long gone.

The RCTF investigators developed the canisters of film found in the pockets of her vest. Some of these black-and-white 8 x 10 prints, along with four proof sheets showing miniatures of all ninety-six shots, were in the murder book, but they offered very little in the way of evidence or investigative leads. They were simply shots of the California National Guard mustering at the Coliseum after being called into the fray in Los Angeles. Other shots were of guardsmen manning barricades at intersections in the riot zone. There were no shots of violence or burning and looting, though there were several of guardsmen on post outside businesses that had been looted or burned. The photos were apparently taken on the day of her arrival, after she had gotten her press pass from the LAPD.

Beyond their historic value as documentation of the riots, the photos were deemed useless to the murder investigation in 1992, and Bosch couldn’t disagree with that assessment twenty years later.

The RCTF file also contained a property report dated May 11, 1992, and detailing the recovery of the Avis rental car that Jespersen had picked up at San Francisco International. The car had been found abandoned on Crenshaw Boulevard seven blocks from the alley where her body was found. In the ten days it had been sitting there, it had been broken into and its interior stripped. The report stated that the car and its contents, or lack thereof, had no investigative value.

What it came down to was that the one piece of evidence found by Bosch within the first hour of the investigation remained the most important hope for a resolution. The bullet casing. Over the past twenty years, law enforcement technologies had grown at light speed. Things not even dreamed about then were routine now. The advent of technological applications to evidence and crime solving had led to reassessments of old unsolved crimes everywhere on the planet. Every major metropolitan police department had teams assigned to cold case investigations. Using new technologies on old cases sometimes came down to shooting fish in a barrel: DNA matches, fingerprint matches, and ballistics matches often led to slam-bang cases against culprits who had long believed they had gotten away with murder.

But sometimes it was more complicated.

One of the first moves Bosch made upon reopening case number 9212-00346 was to take the bullet casing to the Firearms Unit for analysis and profiling. Because of the workload backup and the nonpriority status of cold case requests coming from the Open-Unsolved Unit, three months went by before Bosch got a return. The response wasn’t a panacea, an answer that would immediately solve the case, but it gave Bosch a pathway. After twenty years of no justice for Anneke Jespersen, that wasn’t bad at all.

The firearms report gave Bosch the name Rufus Coleman, forty-one years old and a hard-core member of the Rolling 60s Crips gang. He was currently incarcerated for murder in the California State Penitentiary at San Quentin.

2

It was almost noon by the time the door opened and Coleman was led in by two prison guards. He was locked with his arms behind his back into the seat across the table from Bosch. The guards warned him that they would be watching and then left the two of them staring at each other across the table.

“You a cop, right?” Coleman said. “You know what puttin’ me in a room with a cop could do to me, if one a these hacks put word ’round?”

Bosch didn’t answer. He studied the man across from him. He had seen mug shots but they only framed Coleman’s face. He knew Coleman was big—he was a known Rolling 60s enforcer—but not this big. He had a heavily muscled and sculpted physique, a neck wider than his head—including his ears. Sixteen years of pushups and sit ups and whatever exercises he could manage in his cell had given him a chest that easily extended beyond his chin, and biceps-triceps vises that looked like they could crush walnuts to powder. In the mug shots, his hair had always had a stylized fade. Now his head was clean-shaven and he had used his dome as a canvas for the Lord. On either side he had blue prison-ink crosses wrapped in barbed wire. Bosch wondered if that was part of the lobbying effort with the parole board. I’m saved. It says so right here on my cranium.

“Yes, I’m a cop,” Bosch finally said. “Up from L.A.”

“Sher’ff’s or PD?”

“LAPD. My name’s Bosch. And Rufus, this is going to be the single luckiest or unluckiest day of your life. The cool thing is you’re going to get to pick which one of those days it is. Most of us, we never get the chance to choose between good luck and bad luck. One or the other of them just sort of happens. It’s fate. But this time you do, Rufus. You get to choose. Right now.”

“Yeah, how’s that? You the man with all the luck in your pockets?”

Bosch nodded.

“Today I am.”

Bosch had placed a file folder on the table before Coleman was brought in. He now opened it and lifted out two letters. He left the envelope, which was addressed and already stamped, in the file, just far enough away that Coleman wouldn’t be able to read it.

“So, next month you’re taking your second shot at parole, I hear,” Bosch said.

“That’s right,” Coleman said, a slight tone of curiosity and concern in his voice.

“Well, I don’t know if you know how it works but the same two board members who heard your first hearing two years ago come back for your second. So you got two guys coming who already turned you down once. That means you’re going to need help, Rufus.”

“I already got the Lord on my side.”

He leaned forward and turned his head from side to side so Bosch could get a good look at the tattooed crosses. They reminded Harry of the team logo on the side of a football helmet.

“I think you’re going to need more than a couple tattoos, you ask me.”

“I’m not asking you dick, Five-oh. I don’t need your help. I got my letters all sorted and the D-block chaplain and my good record. I even got a forgiveness letter from the Regis family.”

Walter Regis was the name of the man Coleman had murdered in cold blood.

“Yeah, how much you pay for that?”

“I didn’t pay. I prayed and the Lord provided. The family knows me and what I’m about now. They forgive my sins, as does the Lord.”

Bosch nodded and looked down at the letters in front of him for a long moment before continuing.

“All right, so you got it all set. You got the letter and you’ve got the Lord. You may not need me working for you, Rufus, but you sure don’t want me working against you. That’s the thing. You don’t want that.”

“So get to it. What’s your fucking play?”

Bosch nodded. Now they were down to it. He lifted the envelope.

“You see this envelope? It’s addressed to the parole board in Sacramento and it’s got your inmate number down here in the corner and it’s got a stamp on it all ready to go.”

He put the envelope down and picked up the letters, one in each hand, holding them out side by side for Coleman to look at and read.

“I’m going to put one of these two letters in that envelope and drop it in a mailbox as soon as I get out of here today. You’re going to decide which one.”

Coleman leaned forward and Bosch heard the shackles click against the back of his metal chair. He was so big it looked like he was wearing a linebacker’s shoulder pads under his gray prison jumpsuit.

“What are you talking about, Five-oh? I can’t read that shit.”

Bosch leaned back and turned the letters so he could read them.

“Well, they are letters addressed to the parole board. One speaks very favorably of you. It says you are remorseful about the crimes you have committed and have been cooperating with me in seeking the resolution of a long unsolved murder. It ends—”

“I ain’t cooperating with you on shit, man. You can’t put a snitch jacket on me. You watch your fucking mouth on that shit.”

“It ends with me recommending that you be granted parole.”

Bosch put the letter down and turned his attention to the other.

“Now, this second one is not so good for you. This one says nothing about remorse. It says that you have refused to cooperate in a murder investigation in which you have important information. And lastly it says that the LAPD’s Gang Intelligence Unit has gathered intel that suggests that the Rolling Sixties are awaiting your return to freedom so they can once again utilize your skills as a hit man for the—”

“That’s some bullshit right there! That’s a lie! You can’t send that shit!”

Bosch calmly put the letter down on the table and started folding it for the envelope. He looked at Coleman deadpan.

“You’re going to sit there and tell me what I can do and can’t do? Uh-uh, that’s not how this works, Rufus. You give me what I want and I give you what you want. That’s how it works.”

Bosch ran his finger along the creases of the letter and then started sliding it into the envelope.

“What murder you talking about?”

Bosch looked up at him. There was the first give. Bosch reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out the photo of Jespersen he’d had made from her press pass. He held it up for Coleman to see.

“A white girl? I don’t know nothin’ about no murdered white girl.”

“I didn’t say you did.”

“Then, what the fuck we doin’ here? When did she get her ass killed?”

“May first, nineteen ninety-two.”

Coleman did the date math, shook his head, and smiled like he was dealing with a dummy.

“You got the wrong guy. ’Ninety-two I was in Corcoran on a five spot. Eat that shit, Dee-tective.”

“I know exactly where you were in ’ninety-two. You think I’d come all the way up here if I didn’t know everything about you?”

“All I know is that I was nowhere near some white girl’s murder.”

Bosch shook his head as if to say he wasn’t arguing that point.

“Let me explain it to you, Rufus, because I’ve got somebody else I want to see in here and then a plane to catch. You listening now?”

“I’m listening. Let’s hear your shit.”

Bosch held the photo up again.

“So we’re talking twenty years ago. The night of April thirtieth going into May first, nineteen ninety-two. The second night of the L.A. riots. Anneke Jespersen from Copenhagen is down on Crenshaw with her cameras. She’s taking pictures for the newspaper back in Denmark.”

“The fuck she doin’ down there? She shouldn’t a been down there.”

“I won’t argue that, Rufus. But she was there. And somebody stood her up against a wall in an alley and popped her right in the eye.”

“Wadn’t me and I don’t know a thing about it.”

“I know it wasn’t you. You’ve got the perfect alibi. You were in prison. Can I continue?”

“Yeah, man, tell your story.”

“Whoever killed Anneke Jespersen used a Beretta. We recovered the shell at the scene. The shell showed the distinctive markings of a Beretta model ninety-two.”

Bosch studied Coleman to see if he was seeing where this was going.

“You following me now, Rufus?”

“I’m following but I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

“The gun that killed Anneke Jespersen was never recovered, the case was never solved. Then four years later, you come along fresh out of Corcoran and get arrested and charged with the murder of a rival gang member named Walter Regis, age nineteen. You shot him in the face while he was sitting in a booth at a club on Florence. The supposed motivation was that he was seen selling crack on one of the Sixties’ corners. You were convicted of that crime based on multiple eyewitness testimony and your own statements to police. But the one piece of evidence they didn’t have was the gun you used, a Beretta model ninety-two. The gun was never recovered. You see where I’m going with this?”

“Not yet.”

Coleman was starting to dummy up. But that was okay with Bosch. Coleman wanted one thing: to get out of prison. He would eventually understand that Bosch could either help or hurt his chances.

“Well, let me keep telling the story and you try to follow along. I’ll try to make it easy for you.”

He paused. Coleman didn’t object.

“So now we’re up to nineteen ninety-six and you get convicted and get fifteen to life and go off to prison like the good Rolling Sixties soldier that you were. Another seven years go by and now it’s two thousand three and there’s another murder. A street dealer in the Grape Street Crips named Eddie Vaughn gets whacked and robbed while he’s sitting in his car with a forty and a blunt. Somebody reaches in from the passenger side and puts two in his head and two in the torso. But reaching in like that was bad form. The shells were ejected and they bounced all around inside the car. No time to grab them all. The shooter gets two of them and just runs off.”

“What’s it got to do with me, man? I was up here by then.”

Bosch nodded emphatically.

“You’re right, Rufus, you were up here. But you see, by two thousand three they had this thing called the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network. It’s a computer data bank run by the ATF, and it keeps track of bullets and casings collected from crime scenes and murder victims.”

“That’s fucking fantastic.”

“Ballistics, Rufus, it’s practically like having fingerprints now. They matched those shells from Eddie Vaughn’s car to the gun you used seven years earlier to wipe out Walter Regis. Same gun used in both killings by two different killers.”

“That’s some cool shit there, Dee-tective.”

“It sure is but it’s not really news to you. I know they came up here to talk to you about the Vaughn case. The investigators on that one, they wanted to know who you gave the gun to after you hit Regis. They wanted to know who the Rolling Sixties shot caller that you did the hit for was. Because they were thinking the same guy might’ve called the shot on Vaughn.”

“I think I might remember that. It was a long time ago. I didn’t tell them shit then and I ain’t telling you shit now.”

“Yeah, I pulled the report. You told them to fuck themselves and go on back home. See, back then you were still a soldier, brave and strong. But that was nine years ago and you had nothing to lose then. The thought of making parole in ten years was pie-in-the-sky stuff to you. But now it’s a different story. And now we’re talking about three murders with the same gun. Earlier this year I took the shell we picked up at the Jespersen scene in ’ninety-two and had it run through the ATF data bank. It matched up to Regis and Vaughn. Three killings tied to one gun—a Beretta model ninety-two.”

Bosch sat back in his chair and waited for a reaction. He knew that Coleman knew what he wanted.

“I can’t help you, man,” Coleman said. “You can call the hacks back in for me.”

“You sure? Because I can help you.”

He lifted the envelope.

“Or I could hurt you.”

He waited.

“I could make sure you put in another ten years here before they even look at you again for parole. Is that how you want to play it?”

Coleman shook his head.

“And how long you think I’d last out there if I helped you, man?”

“Not long at all. I’ll give you that. But nobody has to know about this, Rufus. I’m not asking you to testify in court or give a written statement.”

At least not yet, Bosch thought.

“All I want is a name. Between you and me right here and that’s it. I want the guy who called the hit. The guy who gave you the gun and told you to take out Regis. The guy you gave the gun back to after you did the job.”

Coleman cast his eyes to the table as he thought. Bosch knew he was weighing the years. Even the strongest of soldiers has a limit.

“It’s not like that,” he finally said. “The shot caller never talks to the gunner. There are buffers, man.”

Bosch had been briefed by Gang Intelligence before making the journey. He had been told that the hierarchies of the longtime South Central gangs were usually set up like paramilitary organizations. It was a pyramid and a bottom-level enforcer like Coleman wouldn’t even know who had called the hit on Regis. So Bosch had used the question as a test. If Coleman named the shot caller, he would know Coleman was lying.

“All right,” Bosch said. “I get that. So then let’s keep it simple. Keep it on the gun. Who gave it to you the night you hit Regis and who’d you give it back to after?”

Coleman nodded and kept his eyes down. He remained silent and Bosch waited. This was the play. This was what he had come for.

“I can’t do this no more,” Coleman whispered.

Bosch said nothing and tried to keep his breathing normal. Coleman was going to break.

“I got a kid,” he said. “She’s practically a grown woman and I never seen her anywhere but this place. I seen her in prison, that’s all.”

Bosch nodded.

“That shouldn’t be,” he said. “I’ve got a daughter myself and I went through a lot of years without her.”

Bosch now saw a wet shine in Coleman’s eyes. The gang soldier was worn by years of incarceration and guilt and fear. Sixteen years of watching his own back. The layers of muscle were simply the disguise of a broken man.

“Give me the name, Rufus,” he urged. “And I send the letter. Done deal. You don’t give me what I want and you know you’ll never get out of here alive. And there’ll always be glass between you and your girl.”

With his arms cuffed behind him, Coleman could do nothing about the tear that dripped down his left cheek. He bowed his head.

“True story,” Bosch heard him say.

Bosch waited. Coleman said nothing else.

“Tell it,” Bosch finally said.

“Tell what?” Coleman asked.

“The true story. Tell it.”

Coleman shook his head.

“No, man, that’s the name. Trumont Story. They call him Tru, like T-R-U. He gave me the gun to do the job and I gave it back after.”

Bosch nodded. He had gotten what he’d come for.

“One thing, though,” Coleman said.

“What’s that?”

“Tru Story’s dead, man. Least that’s what I heard up here.”

Bosch had prepared himself on the way up. In the past two decades, the gang body count in South L.A. was in the thousands. He knew that there was a better-than-good chance he was looking for a dead man. But he also knew that the trail didn’t necessarily stop with Tru Story.

“You still going to send in that letter?” Coleman asked.

Bosch stood up. He was done. The brutish man in front of him was a stone-cold killer and was in the place he deserved to be. But Bosch had made a deal with him.

“You’ve probably thought about it a million times,” he said. “What do you do after you get out and hug your daughter?”

Coleman answered without missing a beat.

“I find a corner.”

He waited, knowing Bosch would jump to the wrong conclusion.

“And I start to preach. I tell everybody what I’ve learned. What I know. Society won’t have no problem with me. I’ll be a soldier still. But I’ll be a soldier for Christ.”

Bosch nodded. He knew that many who left here had the same plan. To go with God. Few of them made it. It was a system that relied on repeat customers. In his gut he knew Coleman was probably one of them.

“Then I’ll send the letter,” he said.

3

In the morning, Bosch went to the South Bureau on Broadway to meet with Detective Jordy Gant in the Gang Enforcement Detail. Gant was at his desk and on a phone call when Bosch arrived but it didn’t sound important and he quickly got off.

“How’d it go up there with Rufus?” he said.

He smiled as a way of showing understanding if Bosch said, as expected, that the trip to San Quentin was a bust.

“Well, he gave me a name but he also told me the guy was dead, so the whole thing could have been him playing me while I was playing him.”

“What’s the name?”

“Trumont Story. Heard of him?”

Gant just nodded and turned to a short stack of files on the side of his desk. Next to it was a small black box labeled “Rolling 60s—1991–1994.” Bosch recognized it as a box that was used in the old days for holding field interview cards. That was before the department started using computers to store intelligence data.

“Imagine that,” Gant said. “And I just happen to have Tru Story’s file right here.”

“Yeah, imagine that,” Bosch said, taking the file.

He opened it directly to an 8 x 10 shot of a man lying dead on a sidewalk. There was a contact entry wound on his left temple. His right eye had been replaced with a large exit wound. A small amount of blood had oozed onto the concrete and coagulated by the time the photo had been shot.

“Nice,” Bosch said. “Looks like he let somebody get a little too close. This still an open case?”

“That’s right.”

Harry flipped past the photo and checked the date on the incident report. Trumont Story had been dead almost three years. He closed the file and looked at Gant sitting smugly in his desk chair.

“Tru Story’s been dead since ’oh-nine and you just happen to have his file on your desk?”

“Nope, I pulled it for you. Pulled two others as well and thought you might even want to look at our shake cards from back in ’ninety-two. Never know, a name in there might mean something to you.”

“Maybe so. Why’d you pull the files?”

“Well, after we talked about your case and the ATF matches to the other two—you know, three cases, one gun, three different shooters—I started to—”

“Actually, it’s a long shot, but it could be just two shooters. The same guy who kills my victim in ’ninety-two comes back around and hits Vaughn in ’oh-three.”

Gant shook his head.

“Could be but I’m thinking no. Too long a shot. So I was thinking for the sake of argument, three victims, three different shooters, one gun. So I went through our Rolling Sixties cases. That is, cases they were involved in on either side of the violence. As killers or the killed. I pulled cases that might be related to this gun and I got three where there were gunshot killings in which no ballistics evidence was recovered. Two were hits on Seven-Treys, and one—you guessed it—was Tru Story.”

Bosch was still standing. Now he pulled up a chair and sat down.

“Can I take a quick look at the other two?”

Gant handed the files across the desk and Bosch started a quick survey. These weren’t murder books. They were gang files and therefore abbreviated accounts and reports on the killings. The full murder books would be in the hands of the homicide investigators assigned to the cases. If he wanted more, Bosch would have to requisition them, or drop by the lead detective’s desk to borrow a look.

“Typical stuff,” Gant said as Bosch read. “You sell on the wrong corner or visit a girl in the wrong neighborhood and you’re marked for death. The reason I threw Tru Story in there was that he was shot elsewhere and dumped.”

Bosch looked over the files at Gant.

“And why’s that significant?”

“Because it might mean it was an inside job. His own crew. It’s unusual to see a body dump in a gang killing. You know, with the drive-bys and straight-up assassinations. Nobody takes the time to pop a guy and then move the body unless there’s a reason. One might be to disguise that it was internal housekeeping. He was dumped on Seven-Trey turf, so the thinking was he was probably hit on his own turf and then dumped in enemy territory to make it look like he strayed across the line.”

Bosch registered all of this. Gant shrugged his shoulders.

“Just a working guess,” he said. “The case is still open.”

“It’s gotta be more than a working guess,” Bosch said. “What do you know that leads you to make a guess like that? Are you working this?”

“I’m not homicide, I’m intel. I was called in to consult. But that was back then—three years ago. All I know now is that the case is still open.”

The Gang Enforcement Detail was the overarching street gang branch of the LAPD. It had homicide squads, detective squads, intelligence units, and community outreach programs.



Continues...

Excerpted from The Black Box by Michael Connelly Copyright © 2012 by Michael Connelly. Excerpted by permission.
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