Authors: Michael Connelly
“That’s creepy,” Carpenter said. “Are you sure?”
“I’ll check with the Bureau of Street Lighting to see if they had somebody up there, but I kind of doubt it. One of the wires in that lamppost was cut. Anyway, I just wanted to ask. You don’t know anybody who owns a white van, do you?”
“Okay, I’ll let you get back to work.”
After Carpenter went back inside, Ballard got up and dropped her untouched coffee into a trash can. It was time to go to sleep.
The buzz from her cell phone infiltrated her sleep, pulling Ballard out of a dream about water. She pushed the sleep mask up onto her forehead and reached for the phone. She saw that it was Bosch calling and it was exactly noon.
“Shit, you were sleeping. Call me back when you’re awake.”
“I’m awake, I’m awake. What’s going on?”
“I think I found the nexus.”
His use of the word
sent Ballard’s thoughts toward the victims of the Midnight Men. That was the case she had been running with until exhaustion drove her down into the deep sleep Bosch had just roused her from. She flipped the comforter over, swung her legs to the edge of the bed, and pulled herself up into a sitting position.
“Wait a minute,” she said. “What are you saying? You connected the three women? How did — ”
“No, not the women,” Bosch said. “The murders. Javier Raffa and Albert Lee.”
“Oh, yeah, got it. Sorry. I have to wake up.”
“When did you go down?”
“That’s not enough time. Go back to sleep, call me later.”
“No, I won’t be able to sleep now. I’ll be thinking about the case. Tell you what, you hungry? I never ate anything yesterday. I could bring something up to the house.”
“Uh, yeah. If you’re sure.”
“I am. What do you want?”
“I don’t know. Anything.”
“I’m going to take a shower and then I’ll leave. Text me what you want from Birds. It’s on the way. The menu’s online.”
“I already know what I want. Quarter chicken with baked beans and coleslaw. And I’ll take the regular barbecue sauce.”
“Text me anyway so I don’t forget.”
She disconnected, then sat on the bed for a long moment, wondering if she should have taken Bosch’s advice and tried to go back to sleep. She turned and looked back at her pillow. After four years on the night shift, working eight to six four nights a week, she had learned that cheating sleep could have bad consequences.
She pushed herself off the bed and headed to the bathroom.
An hour later she pulled to a stop in front of Bosch’s house. She carried her laptop and the bag from Birds. The restaurant was only a few minutes from her condo and had become her go-to place during the pandemic for takeout. They also gave anybody with a badge a discount, not that LAPD officers were supposed to take such perks.
Bosch took the bag from her and put it on the dining room table, where he had cleared space amid his laptop, printer, and paperwork. He started to take out the cartons containing their food.
“I got the same as you,” Ballard said. “Should be easy. You okay with me taking the mask off to eat? I have the antibodies. Supposedly.”
“Yeah, I’m okay. When did you get it?”
“I was down a few weeks but obviously I was luckier than others. You think the new president’s going to hurry the vaccine along? I don’t know anybody in the department who’s gotten it so far.”
“What about you? You’re eligible.”
“I never leave this place. Might be more dangerous for me to go out to get it.”
“You should make an appointment, Harry. Don’t turn it into a thing.”
“You sound like my daughter.”
“Well, your daughter’s right. How is Maddie?”
“Good. She’s doing well in the academy and has a boyfriend now.”
He offered nothing else but Ballard guessed that this meant he didn’t see her very often. She felt bad about that.
They both ate out of the sectioned cartons the meals came in. Bosch already had real silverware out and waiting, so they left the plastic stuff in the bag.
“In the old days, they used to give cops a discount,” Bosch said. “At Birds.”
“They still do,” Ballard said. “They like having cops as customers.”
She gave him some time to savor his first bite of rotisserie chicken slathered in barbecue sauce. It was the kind of food that made you bring a napkin to your mouth after every bite.
“So, tell me about this nexus you found,” she said.
“All I have is the public records that you can get online,” Bosch said. “Corporate records filed with the state. You’re going to have to go deeper with your access to confirm.”
“Okay, and what am I confirming?”
“I think it’s like the factoring that happened in the Albert Lee case. Ownership of the body shop, including the property it sits on, was transferred from Javier Raffa three years ago to a corporation owned by Raffa and a partner.”
“Who’s the partner?”
“A dentist named Dennis Hoyle. Office in Sherman Oaks.”
“Another dentist. Dennis the dentist. The dentist in the Albert Lee case was down in the Marina, right?”
“Yeah, John William James.”
“Any connection between Hoyle and James?”
“That’s the nexus.”
Ballard could tell Bosch was proud of whatever it was he had found, and of doing so without even leaving his house. She hoped she would still have that mojo if she was around and working cases at his age.
“Tell me,” she said.
“All right, you start with Hoyle and James being dentists,” Bosch said. “Completely different practices. James, he’s down in the Marina with that crowd: celebrities, singles, actors, whatever. Your guy, Hoyle, he’s up in the Valley, different clientele, probably more of a family practice. So it looks like never the twain shall meet, right?”
“I guess. Maybe they knew each other from professional associations. You know, Teeth Pullers of Los Angeles, or something like that.”
“Close. These guys — dentists — when they put in a crown or an implant or what have you, most of them don’t make that stuff in-house. They make a mold of the patient’s tooth and send it out to a dental lab that makes crowns and dentures.”
“They sent to the same lab.”
the same lab. They were partners — until
somebody whacked James. It’s all in state corporate records. If somebody wants to spend the time chasing it through a maze of holding companies, it’s right there.”
“And you spent the time.”
“What else am I going to do?”
“Chase your guy Finbar McShane?”
“Finbar’s a white whale. You said so yourself. But this? This is real.”
Bosch wiped his hands thoroughly on a clot of napkins and then reached over for a sheaf of documents at the side of the table. Ballard could see the state seal of California on the top sheet.
“So you’ve been printing,” she said. “That must have taken all morning.”
“Funny,” Bosch said. “These are the incorporation filings behind a joint business venture called Crown Labs Incorporated. It’s located in Burbank up by the airport. Four other corporations own it, and these I traced to four dentists: James, Hoyle, and two guys named Jason Abbott and Carlos Esquivel.”
“How can James still own it if he’s been dead for seven years?”
“His company is called JWJ Ventures. Corporate records show the vice president of that company upon its founding was Jennifer James, who — I’m going to take a wild guess — was his wife. Seven months after he gets murdered, the records are amended and Jennifer James is now president. So he’s dead but she has his piece of the lab.”
“Okay, so James — when he was alive — knew Hoyle and was in business with him.”
“And each had an association with a business where the principal owner/operator is murdered.”
“With the same gun.”
“With the same gun,” he repeated. “Very risky. The shells connect the case more solidly than the corporate records. There’s got to be a reason.”
“Well, twenty-twos are hard to match,” Ballard said. “They mushroom, shatter. It was about the shells. And in the Raffa kill, we got a break. The shell went under a car and wasn’t readily retrievable.”
“Same with Albert Lee — the shell wasn’t quickly retrievable. You get into coincidences now, and I don’t buy coincidences like that.”
“So, maybe we have other kills where there were no shells left behind and we just got lucky with these two.”
They both were silent for a moment as they considered this. Ballard thought, but didn’t say, that there had to be another reason the killer kept the gun. It belied the planning and precision of the hits. She knew it was something that would need to be answered in the course of the investigation.
“So … ,” Ballard said, moving on. “Let’s suppose that Hoyle’s connection to Javier Raffa came out of a factoring deal. These dentists had to have somebody who set these things up. Somebody who knew about these men — Albert Lee and Javier Raffa — needing money.”
“Exactly. The factor man.”
“And that’s who we’ve got to find.”
“You have to go back to the Raffa family and find out when he hit a financial crunch and who he went to about it.”
“Well, I know one thing. He had to buy his way out of the gang. Our intel is that he paid Las Palmas twenty-five grand in cash to walk away.”
“Where’s a guy like that get that kind of cash — without robbing a bank?”
“He could have refinanced the business or the property.”
“What, and tell the bank he needed the money to buy his way out of a street gang? Good luck with that.”
Ballard didn’t respond as she thought it through.
“What about the other two dentists?” she finally said. “Abbott and Esquivel.”
Bosch tapped his stack of printouts.
“I got ’em here,” he said. “One of them’s got a practice in Glendale, the other’s in Westwood.”
“That’s weird,” Ballard said. “I just remembered Raffa’s son said the other night that his father’s partner was a white guy from Malibu.”
“Maybe Hoyle lives out there and commutes in to Sherman Oaks. Malibu puts him closer to James in the Marina. You’ll have to run all of them through DMV to get home addresses.”
“I will. When did Crown Labs first incorporate?”
“So these guys, they’ve been around.”
“Oh, yeah. James was thirty-nine when he got his ticket punched seven years ago.”
Ballard finished off the cup of coleslaw that came with her chicken. She then wiped her mouth with a napkin for the final time and closed the to-go carton.
“There is not much I can do to formally run all the connections down with the state till Monday,” she said. “And that’s only if I’m still on the case.”
“There is that,” Bosch said.
“Whether I’m on it then or not, what I feel like doing today is skeeing a few of these places. The lab, Hoyle’s house, maybe his office. See how high on the hog he’s living. I’ll run the other two through DMV and put them on the map. But right now there’s no real connection to them. That’s why I’m going to go
skeeing. I want to see what I’m up against. Then I’ll go talk to Raffa’s family.”
was pure LAPD jargon — a less formal word for surveilling. It meant doing a drive-by of a person of interest, taking a measure of him. Its origin was debated: One camp thought it derived from the word
meaning getting the physical parameters of a suspect’s place of business or residence. Others said it was short for
— taking the first step in a plan to hit a house of criminal activity. Either way, Ballard did not have to translate for Bosch.
“I’ll go with you,” he said.
“You sure?” Ballard asked.
“I’m sure,” Bosch said. “I’ll grab a mask.”
The skee patrol started at the dental lab near the airport. On San Fernando Road in an industrial zone that backed up to the 5 freeway, it was a large single-level building with a gated parking lot on the side. A small sign identifying the business was on the door along with a logo: a cartoon tooth with eyes and a bright smile.
“It’s bigger than I thought it would be,” Ballard said.
“The four entities own it but it most likely does work for dentists all over the city,” Bosch said.
“You’d think a place like this would make them enough money that they didn’t need to be involved in factoring and murder schemes.”
“Some people can never have enough money. And then again, maybe we’re completely wrong and they are completely legit.”
“It’s not looking that way.”
“You want to try to go in?”
“They’re closed. No cars in the lot. Besides, we don’t want to give them early warning that we’re sniffing around.”
“Good point. But drive down to the end, see what we can see.”
Ballard drove along the fence line until they could see a third side of the building. There was an emergency exit here by a trash dumpster.
“Okay,” Ballard said. “What’s next?”
Bosch had brought his printouts and had mapped out the order in which they should conduct the skee. Their next stop was nearby Glendale. They drove by a shopping plaza on Brand Boulevard, where Carlos Esquivel had a family dentistry practice. It was on the second level of the plaza and reachable by an outdoor escalator, which had been turned off for the holiday weekend.
“Looks like a nice practice he’s got here,” Ballard said.
“Let’s drive around behind,” Bosch said. “See what the parking situation looks like.”
Ballard followed his instruction and found an alley that ran behind the plaza and where there was reserved parking for building employees. They saw Esquivel’s name on a placard reserving one spot. Right next to it was a spot reserved for a Dr. Mark Pellegrino.
“Looks like he has a partner,” Bosch said.
Next stop was Esquivel’s home in the hills above Glendale: a multimillion-dollar contemporary with white walls, hard lines, black window frames, and a gated driveway.
“Not bad,” Bosch said.
“He’s doing all right,” Ballard said. “I guess drillin’ teeth is drillin’ for gold.”
“But can you imagine that life? No one’s ever happy to see you.”
“You’re the guy who’s going to stick your fingers and metal instruments in my mouth.”
“Not that different from being a cop. These days, people don’t want to see us either.”
And so it went. They next traversed the Valley, checking out Dennis Hoyle’s office and home. DMV records showed that he had previously lived in Malibu, but his current residence
was in the hills off Coldwater Canyon. It was a gated property with a view of the whole San Fernando Valley. Next they dropped down through the Sepulveda Pass to the Westwood location, where Jason Abbott practiced dentistry, and then over to the other side of the freeway in Brentwood, where he lived.
They headed south for the final drive-by — the places the late John William James worked, lived, and died. But before they got there, Ballard took an unexpected turn in Venice. Bosch thought she was making a driving mistake.
“This is not it,” he said.
“I know,” Ballard said. “I just want to make a little detour. One of my Midnight Men victims — the latest one — has an ex that lives down here. And I thought, since we’re on skee patrol, that I’d just take a run by and scope it out.”
“No problem. You think he’s one of the Midnight Men?”
“No, it’s not that. But there’s something there. They divorced two years ago but she seems afraid of him. I hit him up last night on a pretext call to see what his reaction would be and he sounded like an asshole. He’s in the tech-investment field.”
“They’re all assholes. What address are we looking for?”
“Number five Spinnaker.”
They were on a narrow street a block from the beach. The homes were all modern, multilevel, and expensive. Reginald Carpenter was apparently doing better financially than his ex-wife. They found his home two houses off the beach. It was three levels sitting on top of a three-car garage with just enough space between the very similar houses on either side to store trash cans.
“I hope he has an elevator,” Bosch said.
There was a door to the right of the garage with a no soliciting sign on it. Ballard leaned toward her window so she
could look up the facade of the home. She could see the tip of a surfboard leaning over the railing of a balcony.
“I wonder if I knew this guy from when I used to stay out here,” she said.
Bosch didn’t answer. Ballard turned the car around and headed back to Pacific Avenue.
Pacific ran alongside the Ballona Lagoon, which separated Venice from Marina del Rey. They took it to Via Marina and then were cruising by homes valued even higher than those in overpriced Venice. They cruised by the condo complex where James had lived and then went out to Lincoln Boulevard, where his dental practice was located in a shopping plaza that backed up to the vast complex of docks and boats that made up the area’s namesake marina. Here, the skeeing paid off. The James family dentistry practice was still in business seven years after his unsolved murder. The name listed on the door was Jennifer James, DDS.
“Well, that explains some things,” Ballard said.
“She inherited her husband’s partnership and his practice,” Bosch said. “Unless maybe it was a joint practice all along.”
“I wonder what she knew or knows about the factoring.”
“And the murders, including her own husband’s.”
Bosch pointed to an empty parking space in the corner of the parking lot.
“Right there, that’s where he was parked,” he said. “The gunman supposedly came over from the Marina, crossed the lot, and shot him right through the window. Two head shots, very clean, very fast.”
“I take it no brass was left behind?” Ballard asked.
“That would’ve been too easy. And the slugs?”
Bosch shook his head.
“It wasn’t my case,” he said. “But from what I remember, no go on the slugs. They flattened when they hit bone.”
Ballard drove out of the parking lot onto Lincoln Boulevard and headed north toward the 10 freeway.
“So, what else do you know about that investigation?” she asked.
Bosch explained that the John William James murder case was handled by Pacific Division Homicide, where it was determined that there were not enough reasons or evidence to connect it to the Albert Lee killing.
“I tried to get it there,” Bosch said. “But they wouldn’t listen. A guy named Larkin on the table at Pacific worked it. I think he was a short-timer, had, like, three months till he pulled the pin, and wasn’t looking for a big conspiracy case. By then I was two years in on Lee and I could not make the connection that would force the issue. Last thing I heard was that they were calling it robbery. James wore a ten-thousand-dollar Rolex his wife had given him. It was gone.”
“His wife who inherited his ownership in the lab as well as his practice,” Ballard said. “When did she give it to him?”
“That I don’t know. But as far as I do know, the case was never cleared. It would now be a cold case and the murder book would be at the Ahmanson Center.”
“You want me to make a U-turn?”
“It all depends on what else you’ve got going today.”
“I have my shift tonight and need to call my victims on the Midnight Men thing. They’re all working up surveys for me.”
“Another nexus to be found.”
“Hopefully. I also want to get to Raffa’s wife to ask about his twenty-five-thousand-dollar loan.”
Ballard saw an opening and made a U-turn on Lincoln. She headed south toward Westchester, the area of the city near LAX.
“What a treat!” she said. “We get to hit airport traffic from two airports in the same day.”
“This traffic is a breeze,” Bosch said. “Wait till the pandemic is over and people get out and want to travel. Good luck then.”
The Ahmanson Training Center was on Manchester Boulevard and was part of the LAPD network of training facilities for new recruits. The department had long outgrown the academy in the hills surrounding Dodger Stadium and had ancillary facilities here and up in the Valley. The citywide homicide archive was also housed here. It had opened only a few years before, when the glut of unsolved cases — six thousand since 1960 — had overburdened filing space in the department’s divisions. The murder books were on shelves in a room as big as a regular neighborhood library, and there was an ongoing project to digitize cases so there would always be space for more.
“You have your retiree badge or ID card with you?” Ballard asked. “In case they ask.”
“I have my card in my wallet,” Bosch said. “Didn’t think I’d be badging anybody.”
“You probably won’t need it. On weekends and holidays they just have a couple recruits on shit duty keeping the place open. They’ll probably be too intimidated by the likes of you to ask for ID.”
“Then I guess it’s good to know I can still bring it.”
“Why don’t you bring your printouts so we can get the date for the book we want to pull.”
After parking, they went up the front steps and into a grand hallway with large LAPD do-gooder photographs lining the walls. In a previous incarnation the center had been the corporate headquarters for an oil company. Ballard imagined the walls had then been lined with do-gooder oil-production photos.
The homicide library was on the first floor at the end of the
grand hall. Its double doors were unmarked, the thinking likely being that it was not the best thing to advertise that the city had a whole library of murder books from unsolved cases.
There was a lone cadet behind the counter, sitting in a swivel chair and playing a game on his phone. He went on full alert when Ballard and Bosch entered, probably his only visitors of the day. He was the same kid who had been on duty the previous day when Ballard came in for the Albert Lee book. Still, she flipped her badge while Bosch put his printouts down on the counter and started spreading them out.
The recruit was in a training uniform with his name on a patch over the right breast pocket. It was attached by Velcro so it could be easily ripped off should the recruit wash out of the academy. His name was Farley.
“Ballard, Hollywood Division. I was here yesterday. We need to pull another book. This one from a 2013 case.”
She looked down at the printout Bosch was focused on. It was his copy of the chrono from the Albert Lee case, and he was running his finger down the page of 2013 entries. He found the one detailing his inquiries to Pacific Division Homicide about the John William James murder. He called out the case number and Farley dutifully wrote it down.
“Okay, let me go look,” he said.
He left the counter and disappeared into the warren of shelves lined with plastic binders, each one cataloging a life taken too soon and still with no justice in response.
Farley seemed to be taking a long time to locate the murder book. They were filed chronologically, so it seemed like it would be an easy errand to locate the 2013 shelves and find the John William James binder.
Ballard impatiently drummed her fingers on the counter.
“What the hell happened to him?” Bosch asked.
Ballard stopped drumming as some kind of realization came to her.
“It’s not there,” she said.
“What do you mean?” Bosch asked.
“I just realized. The Albert Lee book is gone, so why would they leave this one?”
“They? Who’s they?”
Before Ballard could come up with an answer, Farley returned from his errand without a murder book in his hands. Instead, he had a lined manila checkout card like the one Ballard had seen when she came for the Albert Lee book.
“It’s checked out,” Farley said.
“That makes me oh for two,” Ballard said. “Who checked it out?”
Farley read a name off the checkout card.
“Ted Larkin, Homicide Unit, Pacific Division. But it says he checked it out five years ago. That was before this place was even here. Like the other one you asked for.”
Ballard slapped a hand down on the counter. She could guess that it was probably checked out after Larkin had retired. Somebody had impersonated the lead detectives on the two cases to enter two different police stations and steal the murder books, leaving behind what would be viewed as plausible checkout cards.
“Let’s go,” Ballard said.
She turned from the counter and headed to the door. Bosch followed.
“Thanks, Farley,” she called over her shoulder.
Ballard marched down the wide hallway toward the main entrance, leaving Bosch struggling to keep up.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” he called after her. “Where are you running? There’s nothing you — ”
“I want to get out of here,” Ballard said. “So we can talk outside.”
“Then we can only go as fast as I can go. So slow down.”
“Okay. I’m just fucking pissed off.”
Ballard slowed her pace and Bosch caught up.
“I mean, this is bullshit,” she said. “Somebody’s stealing murder books in our own damn department.”
The urgency of her voice caught the attention of two cadets walking by in the hall.
“Just wait,” Bosch said. “You said let’s talk outside.”
“Fine,” Ballard said.
She held her tongue until they were out the doors, down the steps, and heading across the parking lot to her car.
“They have somebody inside,” she said.
“Yeah, we know that.” Bosch said. “But who is ‘they’? The dentists? Or is there a go-between?”
“That’s the question,” Ballard replied.
They got in the Defender, and Ballard tore out of the parking lot like she was on a code 3 call. They drove in silence for a long time, until Ballard drove onto the entrance ramp of the 10 freeway.
“So, now what?” Bosch asked.
“We’re going to make one last stop,” Ballard said. “Then I need to go back to work on my other case. I told the victims I’d be calling.”
“That’s good. What stop are we making?”