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Authors: Michael Connelly

The Dark Hours (14 page)

BOOK: The Dark Hours
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“Dodger Stadium.”

“The academy? Why?”

“Not the academy. The stadium. I’m going to get you vaccinated, Harry. You’re eligible, and I get the feeling that if I don’t help you get it done, it will never happen.”

“Look, just take me home. I can get that done on my own time and not waste yours.”

“Nah, we’re going. Get it done now. Trust the science, Harry.” “I do. But there are a hell of a lot of people who deserve it ahead of me. Besides, you need an appointment.”

Ballard pulled the badge off her belt and held it up.

“Here’s your appointment,” she said.

18

After Ballard cleared roll call without being pulled into anything new she told the watch commander that she was going up to the Dell for a second interview with the latest victim of the Midnight Men. He told her to make sure she had a rover.

She could have handled Cindy Carpenter by phone, but face-to-face visits with victims were always better. Not only was it reassuring to them to see a detective in person, but there was a better chance of them sharing newly recalled details of the crime. The brain protects itself by switching to essential life support in a time of physical trauma. Only after safety returns do the full details of the trauma start to come back. Carpenter’s remembering having the sense that she was filmed or photographed was an example of this. Ballard was hoping that a continuation of the bond between detective and victim would emerge in this visit.

But Carpenter, still wearing her work polo with the Native Bean logo on it, answered the door with “What?”

“Hey, everything all right?” Ballard asked.

“Everything’s fine. Why do you keep coming back?”

“Well, you know why. And I was hoping you’d have the questionnaire finished for me.”

“I’m not done.”

She made a move to shut the door and Ballard put her hand out to stop it.

“Is something wrong, Cindy? Did something happen?”

Ballard quickly reset her goals for the visit. She now just wanted to get inside.

“Well, for one, you called my ex-husband and I asked you not to do that,” Carpenter said. “Now I have to deal with him.”

“You didn’t tell me not to call him,” Ballard said. “You told me you didn’t want to talk about him, but you also gave the responding officer his name and number as your closest contact. And it — ”

“I told you I don’t know why I did that. I was confused and terrified. I couldn’t think of anybody else.”

“I understand all of that, Cindy. I do. But I have an investigation going and I need to follow it wherever it takes me. You put your ex’s name down on the incident report, then you don’t want to talk about him. That raised a flag for me. So, yes, I called him. I didn’t tell him that you were attacked. In fact, I worked my way around it. I take it he called you. What did he say?”

Carpenter shook her head like she was annoyed with how smoothly Ballard was handling this confrontation.

“Can I come in?” Ballard asked.

“Might as well,” Carpenter said.

She stepped back from the door. Ballard entered and tried to further diffuse the situation.

“Cindy, I hope you understand that my sole purpose right now is to find the men who attacked you and put them away forever. No matter what moves I make on the investigation, none are intended to cause you further harm or upset. That’s the last thing I want to do. So, why don’t we sit down and start with what happened after I talked to Reginald.”

“Fine.”

Carpenter took the spot on the couch where Ballard had last seen her the day before. Renée sat in a stuffed chair across a low-level coffee table.

“He called you?” Ballard prompted.

“Yes, he called me,” Carpenter said. “He asked what happened and I ended up telling him.”

“And was he sympathetic to you?”

“He acted like he was, but he always made it sound like he cared about me. That was the problem — it was always an act with him. But …”

“But what?”

“This is why I’m pissed off about you calling him. He now has this to hold over me.”

Ballard waited for her to say more but she didn’t.

“I don’t understand, Cindy. What is he holding over you?”

“I left him, okay? I was the one who wanted out.”

“Okay.”

“And he told me, he said I would regret it. And now, thanks to you, he knows what happened to me and, like I said, he pretended to be sympathetic, but I could tell he wasn’t. He was saying I told you so without saying it.”

Carpenter turned her face and looked out the window toward the street. Ballard was silent while she thought about the story of the Carpenter marriage. Finally, she landed on a question.

“Cindy, do you remember, when he asked you what happened, did you get any sense that he already knew?”

“Of course he did. You told him.”

“I didn’t tell him you were sexually assaulted. I said it was a break-in. Did he already know you were attacked?”

“I don’t know.”

“Try to remember, what exactly did he say?”

“He said, ‘I heard that some guys broke in and are you all right.’ Things like that.”

Ballard paused for a moment. She wanted to get the next question right.

“Cindy, think back to that call. Did he say ‘some guys’ broke in? He used the plural?”

“I don’t know. I can’t remember. I might have told him it was two guys, because I told him what happened. The point is, he now knows and I really wish he didn’t.”

Ballard knew that she had not mentioned that there were multiple suspects when she talked to Reginald on the phone. But now Cindy Carpenter couldn’t reliably remember who brought that fact into their conversation. It further advanced Ballard’s suspicions, because Cindy’s recounting of the conversation revealed more about their marriage. Her description of her ex-husband made him sound petty, selfish, and vengeful.

Again, though, she had to ask herself why she kept coming back to Reginald. He presumably had an alibi. And there was no known connection between Cindy or Reginald Carpenter and the other two victims of the Midnight Men.

“Did Reginald happen to say where he was on New Year’s?” she asked.

“He said he’d just gotten back from a golf trip in the desert when you called him,” Carpenter said. “He didn’t say exactly where that was and I didn’t ask. It was the last thing I cared about. Why are you asking that?”

“He just seemed preoccupied when I called him.”

“Please stop calling him.”

“I already have.”

Palm Springs qualified as the desert. As much as Ballard disliked Reginald Carpenter, it seemed unlikely that he was involved in the Midnight Men attacks. She decided to put the
ex-husband aside and continue her hunt for a nexus between the three victims.

“How much of the questionnaire did you get through?” she asked.

“I’m almost finished,” Carpenter said. “It’s right here.”

She pulled a folded sheaf of papers off the side table and tried to fling it across the coffee table to Ballard. She missed badly and it ended up on the other end of the couch.

“Oops, sorry,” Carpenter said.

Ballard got up and picked up the papers.

“The calendar in there goes back sixty days,” Carpenter said. “I can barely remember where I was a week ago. So it’s definitely incomplete. But I got the rest of it done.”

“Thank you,” Ballard said. “I know this was a headache for you to do right now, but it is really valuable to the investigation.”

She flipped through the pages and read some of the answers Carpenter had provided in the calendar section. These included restaurants and shopping destinations. The week before Christmas and the day itself were marked with “La Jolla.”

“La Jolla?” Ballard asked.

“My parents live down there,” Carpenter said. “I always go down at Christmas.”

Ballard finished scanning.

“You went the whole month without putting gas in your car?” she asked. “What about gassing up to go down to La Jolla?”

“I didn’t know you wanted that kind of stuff,” Carpenter said.

“We want everything, Cindy. Anything you can remember.”

“I get gas at the Shell at Franklin and Gower. It’s on my way to work.”

“See, that’s exactly what we want. The locations of your routines. When did you last get gas?”

“On my way back from my parents’ the day after Christmas. Somewhere in Orange County off the five.”

“Okay, we don’t care about that, I don’t think, since it’s a one-off. What about disputes? Anybody at work or elsewhere?”

“Not really. I mean, customers complain all the time — we just give them another coffee and that’s it.”

“So nothing’s ever gotten out of hand? Especially recently?”

“Not that I can think of.”

“You have down here Massage Envy — is that the one on Hillhurst?”

“Yes, my employees gave me a gift certificate for Christmas and I used it one day when I got off work early. Nothing happened.”

“Male or female masseuse?”

“Female.”

“All right. I will probably have more questions after I look through this.”

What she did not say was that she might have questions after she cross-referenced Carpenter’s answers with those from the other two victims.

“So, did you find out anything about the street-lighting guys?” Cindy asked.

“No, not yet,” Ballard said.

“Do you think it was them?”

“It could have been. The questionnaire is important because we need to find out where your attackers crossed paths with you. We want to try to understand who would target you, and why.”

Carpenter slapped her hand down on her thigh like she was fed up.

“Why is it my fault?” she said angrily. “Why is it because of something I did?”

“I’m not saying that,” Ballard said quickly. “I’m not saying that at all.”

Ballard felt her phone buzz. She checked the screen and saw that it was the inside line at Hollywood Station. It was the watch commander and she realized she had left the rover in the charging dock in her city car. She put the phone away without answering the call.

“Well, it sure seems like it,” Carpenter said.

“Then I’m sorry,” Ballard said. “So let me make it clear: You did nothing to deserve or attract this. What happened to you was not your fault in any way. We’re talking about the attackers here. I’m trying to learn where and under what circumstances these sick, twisted individuals decided to choose you. That’s all, and I don’t want you thinking that I’m looking at it any other way.”

Carpenter had her face turned away again. She murmured a response.

“Okay,” she said.

“I know that sometimes the investigation is just an ongoing reminder of what you were put through,” said Ballard. “But it’s a necessary evil, because we want to catch these assholes and put them away.”

“I know. And I’m sorry I’m being a bitch.”

“You’re not, Cindy. And you have nothing to be sorry about. At all.”

Ballard stood up and folded the Lambkin questionnaire in half.

“You’re going?” Carpenter asked.

After turning her face from her and repeatedly pushing back at her questions, Carpenter now seemed upset that Ballard was leaving.

“It looks like I have another call,” Ballard said. “I need to go. But I can check in later if you want me to.”

“Okay.”

“Are you working tomorrow?”

“No, I’m off.”

“Okay, I’ll check in with you if I have anything to report.”

Ballard left the house and headed to her car, looking at her phone for a message from the watch office. There was none. When she got to her car, she looked back at the streetlight at the front corner of Cindy Carpenter’s property. It was still out.

19

Before she got to her city ride Ballard’s phone buzzed again. This time it was her detective commander calling. This meant that the watch commander had roused Robinson-Reynolds at home to complain that she was not responding to radio or cell calls.

“L-T,” she said. “I’m about to check in with the watch commander.”

“What the hell, Ballard?” Robinson-Reynolds said.

“I was with my rape victim. She was very emotional and it wasn’t a good time to take the call. Plus I pulled a dead rover when I left the station. It’s charging in my car.”

“Well, they fucking need you at a scene.”

“I’m on my way. What is it? Where is it?”

“I don’t know, some kind of an assault in Thai Town. Get the details from the watch commander.”

“I’ll call him next.”

“I don’t like getting calls about my people, Ballard. You know that.”

“I do, L-T. It won’t happen — ”

Robinson-Reynolds disconnected.

“ — again.”

She had hoped to keep him on the line so she could update
him on the cases she was working. Now she would have to wait till Monday. A lot could happen between now and then.

It was a good thing Ballard liked working alone, because the department had a freeze on promotions and hiring until the world cleared the pandemic. But what made solo work difficult was not having a partner to divvy up responsibilities with. Ballard had to cover everything and still fight to keep the cases she wanted to keep. Once in the car, she called the watch lieutenant on the rover. She chose this because the conversation would go out live on the radio. A cell call would have given him carte blanche to harangue her for not answering the initial calls.

Because it was a holiday weekend and people with seniority were taking days, there was yet another watch commander on duty, making it three in three nights. Lieutenant Sandro Puig kept a modulated tone when he told Ballard to respond to an address on Hobart Avenue to investigate a home invasion and assault. She asked if there were any Thai officers on duty and he responded that 6-A 79 — the designation for the patrol unit assigned to the Thai Town area — included an officer who could translate.

It took Ballard five minutes to wind her way down and out of the Dell and then another five to get to the address, which was a 1950s two-level apartment building with parking underneath. It looked like the last time anyone had taken a run at painting the place was the previous century. She parked behind a patrol car. She saw no EMT wagon yet, even though the call was billed as an assault.

The entrances to the apartments were along an outside walkway. As she headed up the steps toward apartment 22, a shirtless man with a bloody eye suddenly appeared on the upper landing, saw Ballard coming up, and charged down the stairs toward her.

At the same moment, she heard a woman’s shrill voice yell, “Hey! Stop!”

Muscle memory took over. Ballard took a sideways step into the middle of the concrete staircase and brought her arms and hands up to take on the body charging at her from an upper angle. The man hit her with all of his weight. He was small but the impact was solid and she was propelled backward and down. She landed butt-first on the lower landing with the man’s weight coming down on top of her. After impact, he immediately started to roll off her. She tried to grab him, but without a shirt, there was no purchase on his sweat-slick body. As fast as the collision had occurred he was up and gone. Ballard could see a female officer coming down the steps toward her. The officer hit the landing, jumped over Ballard’s sprawled body, and continued the chase, yelling something that sounded like
“Yood, yood, yood!”

Ballard realized she had hit her head on the concrete. She wanted to get up and join the chase but the world was beginning to spin. She turned onto her side and then her stomach and then finally raised herself onto her hands and knees.

“Ballard, are you all right?”

She turned her head toward the stairs and saw another officer coming down. Soon she felt a hand on her arm as someone tried to help her up.

“Wait,” Ballard said. “Give me a second.”

She paused and then looked up at the second officer. It was Victor Rodriguez, her translator from the night of Raffa’s killing.

“V-Rod,” Ballard said. “Who the fuck was that?”

“That was our goddamn victim,” Rodriguez said. “He suddenly jumped up and took off.”

“Go after your partner. I’m all right.”

“You sure?”

“Go.”

Rodriguez hurried off, and Ballard, grabbing the staircase rail, climbed up into a standing position. She was hit with vertigo and held on to the railing for support. Her head finally cleared and she tentatively let go of the railing. After taking a few steps to see if everything was working, she swung her hand up under her jacket to the small of her back to check for blood or other damage but found nothing. She touched the back of her head. There was no blood but she felt a bump swelling at the impact point.

“Shit.”

Soon she heard a helicopter cutting across the sky above and knew the officers had called out an airship to help find the running man.

But it was not to be. Rodriguez was soon back with the other officer, Chara Paithoon. Both were huffing from the unsuccessful foot pursuit.

“He got away,” Rodriguez said.

“You okay, Renée?” Paithoon asked.

“I hit my head,” Ballard said.

Paithoon was one of the few Thai-born officers in the department. She was short and compactly built and wore a short haircut with shaved sidewalls and a waxed front wave. Ballard knew that plenty of female officers adopted utility hairstyles to ward off the unwanted attention of male officers.

“Can I see?” Paithoon said. “Let me check your eyes.”

Paithoon snapped on a flashlight. She held the light so the outer edge of its beam touched lightly on Ballard’s face. Paithoon was standing in close, looking up at her eyes.

“You’ve got some dilation,” she said. “You should have the EMTs check it.”

“Yeah, where are they?” Ballard asked. “I thought this was an assault.”

Paithoon stepped back and put away her light.

“We called them but I guess they’re tied up,” Rodriguez said.

“So what exactly happened here?” Ballard said.

“Neighbor called it in, said there was a fight in twenty-two,” Rodriguez said. “We got here, and suspects were gone on arrival. Chara was talking to the guy and then suddenly he pushes her into me and takes off. You know the rest.”

“Was he illegal?” Ballard asked.

“Never got to it,” Paithoon said. “He wasn’t Thai, though. The neighbor who called it in was Thai but this guy was Cambodian. I think this was ABZ business and he was afraid we were going to arrest him, so he hightailed it.”

Ballard knew that ABZ meant Asian Boyz, a gang that preyed upon immigrants, legal and otherwise, from Southeast Asia.

Two paramedics entered the apartment building’s central courtyard, and Paithoon greeted them.

“Our victim is GOA but you need to take a look at Detective Ballard here,” she said. “She took a tumble and hit her head.”

The paramedics agreed to check Ballard but wanted to do it at their truck. Paithoon and Rodriguez stayed behind to do mop-up on what was turning out to be an assault call without a victim.

Ballard sat under a light on the fold-down tail of the EMT wagon while a med tech checked her vitals as well as her eyes for dilation and her scalp for bruising and swelling. The name patch on his uniform said single.

“Is that your name or relationship status?” Ballard asked.

“It’s my name but I get asked that a lot,” Single said.

“Of course you do.”

“So, I think you have a slight concussion. We’ve got a little bit of dilation of the pupils, some elevated blood pressure.”

He used his gloved fingers to press the skin around Ballard’s eyes. She could see the concentration in his expression as he
worked. He wore a mask but he had sharp brown eyes and full brown hair and was maybe a few years younger than her. One of his pupils had a notch in it slightly off center at five o’clock.

“Coloboma,” Single said.

“What?” Ballard asked.

“You’re looking at my eye. The notch in my pupil is caused by a birth defect in the iris called coloboma. Some call it a keyhole pupil.”

“Oh. Does it …”

“Affect my eyesight? No. But I have to wear sunglasses when the sun is out. So, most of the time.”

“Well, that’s good. About your eyesight.”

“Thanks. And so you’re on the other side of the wall, right?”

“What?”

“Hollywood Division?”

“Oh, yeah, Hollywood. You’re at the firehouse, then?”

“Yep. Maybe I’ll see you in the parking lot someday.”

“Sure.”

“But what I think you need to do now is punch out and go home and rest.”

“I can’t do that. I’m the only detective on duty tonight.”

“Yeah, well, you’re not going to be much of a detective if your brain swells and you go into seizure.”

“Seriously?”

“You took a good knock on the head. Coup and contrecoup injuries — bruising of the brain, swelling — can develop over time. I’m not saying you have that, because there is only mild dilation exhibited, but you definitely want to take it easy. You can sleep but you want somebody to wake you and check on you every couple hours or so. Just keep a watch on this. You have somebody at home who can check on you through the night?”

“I live alone.”

“Then give me a number, and I’ll call you every few hours.”

“You’re serious?”

“Totally. You don’t want to mess around with an injury like this. Call your supervisor and tell him you’re going home. If he wants to talk to me, I’ll tell him what I just told you.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll do it.”

“Give me a number to call.”

Ballard gave him a business card that had her name and cell phone number on it. She remained skeptical that he would call to check on her. But she hoped he would. She liked his look and his manner. She liked the keyhole in his eye.

“So, am I okay to drive?” she asked. “I have a city ride I should turn in and then get my car.”

“I can drive your ride back, since we’re going back to the station. Where do you live?”

“Los Feliz.”

“Well, maybe you can get an Uber or one of the patrol guys can drive you home.”

“Sure. I can work on that.”

“Good. And I’ll call to check on you in a couple hours.”

BOOK: The Dark Hours
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