Authors: Michael Connelly
Ballard began putting together the murder book on the Raffa case. This effort started with the tedious job of writing out the incident report, which described the killing and identified the victim but also included many mundane details such as time of the initial call, names of responding patrol officers, ambient temperature, next-of-kin notification, and other details that were important in documenting but not solving the case. She then wrote summaries of the witness interviews she had conducted and collected from Lisa Moore, though Moore’s reports were short and perfunctory. A summary of the interview with Raffa’s youngest daughter had only one line: “This girl knows nothing and can contribute nothing to the investigation.”
All of this was put into a three-ring binder. Lastly, Ballard started a case chrono that recorded her movements by time and included mention of her discussion with Davenport. She then made copies of the documents in the GED file and put them in the binder as well. She got all of this done by 5 a.m. and then got up and approached Moore, who was looking at email on her phone. Their shift ended in an hour but that didn’t matter to Ballard.
“I’m going to go downtown to see what Forensics collected,” Ballard said. “You want to stay or go?”
“I think I’ll stay,” Moore said. “There’s no way you’ll be back by six.”
“Right. Then do you mind taking the GED file back up to Davenport?”
“Sure, I’ll take it. But why are you doing this?”
“Running with the case. It’s a homicide. You’re just going to turn it over to West Bureau as soon as everybody wakes up over there.”
“Maybe. But maybe they’ll let me work it.”
“You’re giving the rest of us a bad name, Renée.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Just stay in your lane. Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt, right?”
“You didn’t say that about me jumping on the Midnight Men case,” she said.
“That’s rape,” Moore said. “You’re talking about a homicide case.”
“I don’t see the difference. There’s a victim and there’s a case.” “Well, put it this way: West Bureau will see a difference. They’re not going to be nice about you trying to take away one of theirs.”
“We’ll see. I’m going. Let me know if our two assholes hit again.”
“Oh, I will. And you do the same.”
Ballard went back to her borrowed desk, closed her laptop, and collected her things. She pulled up her mask for the walk down the back hallway to the exit. There was a prisoner lockdown bench there and she wanted the extra protection. There was no telling what the arrested bring into the station.
After leaving the station, she took the 101 toward downtown,
driving through the pre-dawn grays toward the towers that always seemed lit at any hour of darkness. Traffic had generally been cut in half during the pandemic, but the city at this hour was dead, and Ballard made it to the 10 east interchange in less than fifteen minutes. From there it was only another five minutes before the exit to the Cal State L.A. campus. The Forensic Science Center, the five-story lab shared by the LAPD and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, was at the south end of the vast campus.
The building seemed just as quiet as the streets. Ballard took the elevator up to the third floor, where the crime scene techs worked. She buzzed her way in and was met by a criminalist named Anthony Manzano, who had been out at the Javier Raffa crime scene.
“Ballard,” he said. “I was wondering who I was going to hear from.”
“It’s me for now,” Ballard said. “West Bureau is running with a double and it’s all hands on deck there.”
“You don’t have to tell me. Everybody but me is working it. Come on back.”
“Must be a hairy case.”
“More like a TV case and they don’t want to look bad.”
Ballard had been curious about why no media had turned up at the Gower Gulch case. She had thought that the initial theory, that someone was killed by a falling bullet, would be catnip to the media, but so far, there had been no inquiries that she was aware of.
Manzano led her through the lab to his workstation. She saw three other criminalists at work in other pods and assumed they were on the West Bureau case.
“What’s the case out there?” she asked casually.
“Elderly couple robbed and murdered,” Manzano said.
After a pause he delivered the kicker.
“They were set on fire,” he said. “While alive.”
“Jesus Christ,” Ballard said.
She shook her head but immediately thought, yes, the media would be all over that case, and the department would throw several bodies on it to give the appearance of leaving no stone unturned. That meant she stood a good chance of being able to keep the Raffa case if she could get the approval of Lieutenant Robinson-Reynolds.
There was a light table in Manzano’s pod, and spread across it was a wide piece of graph paper on which he had been in the process of sketching the crime scene.
“This is your scene right here and I’ve been plotting the locations of the casings we collected,” Manzano said. “It looked like the shootout at the O.K. Corral out there.”
“You mean the firing into the sky, right?” Ballard said.
“I do, and it’s interesting. We have thirty-one shells recovered and I think it adds up to only three guns in play — including the murder weapon.”
Beside the graph paper was a clipboard with Manzano’s notes and drawings from the scene. There was also an open cardboard box containing the thirty-one bullet casings in individual plastic evidence bags.
“Okay, so thirty-one shots produced thirty-one shells on the ground,” Manzano said. “We have three separate calibers and ammunition brands, so this becomes pretty easy to figure out.”
He reached into the box, rooted around in it, and came out with one of the bagged bullet casings.
“We have identified seventeen casings as nine-millimeter PDX1 rounds produced by Winchester,” Manzano said. “You will have to get confirmation from FU, but to me, as a nonexpert,
the firing-pin marks on these look alike, and that would suggest they all came from a nine-millimeter weapon that would hold sixteen rounds in the clip and one in the chamber if fully loaded.”
Manzano had referenced the Firearms Unit, which was no longer called that because of the other meaning associated with the acronym. It had been updated to Firearms Analysis Unit.
“I think you are probably looking at a Glock seventeen or similar weapon there,” Manzano said. “Then we have thirteen casings that were forty-caliber and manufactured by Federal. I looked at our ammo catalog, and these likely were jacketed hollow points, but FU would have an opinion on that. And of course these could have been fired by any number of firearms. Twelve in the clip, one in the chamber.”
“Okay,” Ballard said. “That leaves one.”
Manzano reached into the box and found the bag containing the last casing.
“Yes,” he said. “And this is a Remington twenty-two.”
Ballard took the evidence bag and looked at the brass casing. She was sure it was from the bullet that killed Javier Raffa.
“This is good, Anthony,” she said. “Show me where you found it.”
Manzano pointed to an
on the crime scene schematic that had the marker number 1 next to it and was inside the rectangular outline of a car. To the right of the car was a stick figure that Ballard took to be Javier Raffa.
“Of course, the victim was transported before we got there, but the blood pool and EMT debris marked that spot,” he said. “The casing was nine feet, two inches from the blood and located under one of the wrecks in the tow yard. The Chevy Impala, I believe.”
Ballard realized that they had caught a break. The ejected
shell had gone under the car and that made it difficult for the gunman to retrieve it before people started to notice that Raffa was down.
She held up the evidence bag.
“Can I take this to Firearms?” she asked.
“I’ll write a COC,” Manzano said.
He was talking about a chain-of-custody receipt.
“Do you know if anyone is over there?” Ballard asked.
“Should be somebody,” Manzano said. “They’re on max deployed like everybody else.”
Ballard pulled her phone and checked the time. Tactical alert would end in fifteen minutes. It was Friday and the January 1 holiday. The Firearms Analysis Unit might possibly go dark.
“Okay, let me sign the COC and get over there before they leave,” she said.
The FAU was just down the hall and Ballard entered with ten minutes to spare. At first she thought she was too late — she didn’t see anyone. And then she heard someone sneeze.
“Sorry,” someone said. “Coming out.”
A man in a black polo shirt with the FAU logo stepped out from one of the gun storage racks that lined one wall of the unit. The unit had collected so many varieties of firearms over the years that they were displayed in rows of racks that could be closed together like an accordion.
The man was carrying a feather duster.
“Just doing a little housekeeping,” he said. “We wouldn’t want Sirhan’s gun to get dusty. It’s part of history.”
Ballard just stared for a moment.
“Mitch Elder,” the man said. “What can I do for you?”
Ballard identified herself.
“Are you about to leave at the end of the tac alert?” she asked.
“Supposed to,” Elder said. “But … whaddaya got?”
It had been Ballard’s experience that gun nuts always liked a challenge.
“We had a homicide this morning. Gunshot. I have a casing and was looking for a make on the weapon used, maybe a NIBIN run.”
The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network was a database that stored characteristics of bullets and casings used in crimes. Each carried markings that could be matched to specific weapons and compared crime to crime. Casings were a better bet than bullets because bullets often fragmented or mushroomed on impact, making comparisons more difficult.
Ballard held up the clear evidence bag with the casing in it as bait. Elder’s eyes fixed on it. He didn’t take long.
“Well, let’s see what you got,” he said.
Ballard handed him the bag and then followed him to a workstation. He put on gloves, removed the casing, and studied it under a lighted magnifying glass. He turned it in his fingers, studying the rim for marks left by the weapon that had fired it.
“Good extractor marking,” he finally said. “I think you’re looking for a Walther … but we’ll see. This will take a little time for me to encode. If you want to go get breakfast, I’ll be here when you get back.”
“No, I’m good,” Ballard said. “I have to make a call.”
“Then maybe we can get breakfast after we’re done.”
“Uh … I think I’ll probably need to keep moving with the case. But thanks.”
“I’m going to find an empty desk.”
She walked away, almost shaking her head. She was annoyed with herself for adding the thanks at the end of the rejection.
She found a workspace that was completely bare except for
a phone on the desk. She pulled her own phone and called Robinson-Reynolds, clearly waking him up.
“Ballard, what is it?”
He seemed annoyed.
“You told me to update you no matter the time.”
“I did. Whaddaya got?”
“I think our shooting was a homicide — a murder — and I want to stick with it.”
“Ballard, you know it needs to go to — ”
“I know the protocol but West Bureau is running with a big media case and I think they would welcome me taking it off their hands — at least until they come up for air on the double they’ve got.”
“You’re not a homicide detective.”
“I know, but I was. I can handle this, L-T. We’ve already conducted witness interviews and I’ve been to Forensics and now I’m at Firearms running NIBIN on the shell we found.”
“You shouldn’t have done any of that. You should have turned it over as soon as you knew it wasn’t an accidental.”
“West Bureau was busy; I ran with it. We can turn it over now but they won’t jump on it, and hours and maybe days will go by before they do.”
“It’s not my call, Ballard. It’s their call. Lieutenant Fuentes over there.”
“Can you call him and grease this for me, L-T? He’ll probably be happy we want to take it off his hands.”
“There is no ‘we’ on this, Ballard. Besides, you are supposed to be off duty starting ten minutes ago. I got no overtime for you.”
“I’m not doing this for OT. No greenies on this.”
“Greenies” was a reference to the color of the 3 x 5 cards that had to be filled out and signed by a supervisor authorizing overtime work.
“No greenies?” Robinson-Reynolds asked.
“Nope,” Ballard promised.
“What about the Midnight Men, and where is Moore in all of this? You’re supposed to be working together.”
“She stayed at the station to start putting together the murder book and writing up witness statements. Nothing came up on the Midnight Men but I’ll still be working that. I’m not dropping it.”
“Then that’s a lot on your plate.”
“I wouldn’t ask for this if I couldn’t handle my plate.”
There was a pause before Robinson-Reynolds made a decision.
“Okay, I’ll make the call to Fuentes. I’ll let you know.”
The lieutenant disconnected first and Ballard walked back over to Elder’s workstation. He was gone. She looked around and saw him sitting at a computer terminal by the window that looked out on the 10 freeway. It meant he was on the NIBIN database. She walked over.
“Ballard, you’ve got something here,” Elder said.
“Really?” Ballard said. “What?”
“Another case. The bullet is linked to another murder. Almost ten years ago up in the Valley. A guy got shot in a robbery. The shells match. Same gun was used. A Walther P-twenty-two.”
Ballard felt a cold finger go down her spine.
“What’s the case number?” she asked.
Elder dictated a number off the computer screen. Ballard grabbed a pen out of a cup next to the computer terminal and wrote the number in her notebook.
“What’s the vic’s name?” she asked.