Authors: Michael Connelly
Tags: #Mystery & Detective, #Suspense, #Fiction, #General, #Crime, #Thrillers, #Police Procedural
Turning the body had exposed the bullet entry wounds in the back of the head. The victim’s black hair was matted with blood. The back of his white shirt was spattered with a fine spray of a brown substance that immediately drew Bosch’s attention. He had been to too many crime scenes to remember or count. He didn’t think that was blood on the dead man’s shirt.
“That’s not blood, is it?”
“No, it’s not,” Felton said. “I think we’ll find out from the lab that it’s good old Coca-Cola syrup. The residue you might find in the bottom of an empty bottle or can.”
Before Bosch could respond Walling did.
“An improvised silencer to dampen the sound of the shots,” she said. “You tape an empty plastic liter Coke bottle to the muzzle of the weapon and the sound of the shot is significantly reduced as sound waves are projected into the bottle rather than the open air. If the bottle had a residue of Coke in it, the liquid would be spattered onto the target of the shot.”
Felton looked at Bosch and nodded approvingly.
“Where’d you get her, Harry? She’s a keeper.”
Bosch looked at Walling. He, too, was impressed.
“Internet,” she said.
Bosch nodded though he didn’t believe her.
“And there is one other thing you should note,” Felton said, drawing attention back to the body.
Bosch stooped down again. Felton reached across the body to point at the hand on Bosch’s side.
“We have one of these on each hand.”
He was pointing to a red plastic ring on the middle finger. Bosch looked at it and then checked the other hand. There was a matching red ring. On the inside of each hand the ring had a white facing that looked like some sort of tape.
“What are they?” Bosch asked.
“I don’t know yet,” Felton said. “But I think—”
“I do,” Walling said.
Bosch looked up at her. He nodded. Of course she knew.
“They’re called TLD rings,” Walling said. “Stands for thermal luminescent dosimetry. It’s an early-warning device. It’s a ring that reads radiation exposure.”
The news brought an eerie silence to the gathering. Until Walling continued.
“And I’ll give you a tip,” she said. “When they are turned inward like that, with the TLD screen on the inside of the hand, that usually means the wearer directly handles radioactive materials.”
Bosch stood up.
“Okay, everybody,” he ordered, “back away from the body. Everybody just back away.”
The crime scene techs, the coroner’s people and Bosch all started moving away from the body. But Walling didn’t move. She raised her hands like she was calling for a congregation’s attention in church.
“Hold on, hold on,” she said. “Nobody has to back away. It’s cool, it’s cool. It’s safe.”
Everybody paused but nobody moved back to their original positions.
“If there was an exposure threat here, then the TLD screens on the rings would be black,” she said. “That’s the early warning. But they haven’t turned black, so we’re all safe. Additionally, I have this.”
She pulled back her jacket to reveal a small black box clipped to her belt like a pager.
“Radiation monitor,” she explained. “If we had a problem, believe me, this thing would be screaming bloody murder and I’d be running at the front of the pack. But we don’t. Everything is cool here, okay?”
The people at the crime scene hesitantly started to return to their positions. Harry Bosch moved in close to Walling and took her by an elbow.
“Can we talk over here for a minute?”
They moved out of the clearing toward the curb at Mulholland. Bosch felt things shifting but tried not to show it. He was agitated. He didn’t want to lose control of the crime scene, and this sort of information threatened to do just that.
“What are you doing here, Rachel?” he asked. “What’s going on?”
“Just like you, I got a call in the middle of the night. I was told to roll out.”
“That tells me nothing.”
“I assure you that I am here to help.”
“Then start by telling me exactly what you are doing here and who sent you out. That would help me a lot.”
Walling looked around and then back at Bosch. She pointed out beyond the yellow tape.
Bosch held out his hand, telling her to lead the way. They went under the tape and out into the street. When he judged that they were out of earshot of everyone else at the crime scene, Bosch stopped and looked at her.
“Okay, this is far enough,” he said. “What is going on here? Who called you out here?”
She locked eyes with him again.
“Listen, what I tell you here has to remain confidential,” she said. “For now.”
“Look, Rachel, I don’t have time for—”
“Stanley Kent is on a list. When you or one of your colleagues ran his name on the National Crime Index Computer tonight a flag went up in Washington, DC, and a call went out to me at Tactical.”
“What, was he a terrorist?”
“No, he was a medical physicist. And, as far as I know, a law-abiding citizen.”
“Then what’s with the radiation rings and the FBI showing up in the middle of the night? What list was Stanley Kent on?”
Walling ignored the question.
“Let me ask you something, Harry. Has anyone checked on this man’s home or wife yet?”
“Not yet. We were working the crime scene first. I plan to—”
“Then I think we need to do that right now,” she said in an urgent tone. “You can ask your questions along the way. Get the guy’s keys in case we need to go in. And I’ll go get my car.”
Walling started to move away but Bosch caught her by the arm.
“I’m driving,” he said.
He pointed toward his Mustang and left her there. He headed to the patrol car, where the evidence bags were still spread on the trunk. As he made his way he regretted having already cut Edgar loose from the scene. He signaled the watch sergeant over.
“Listen, I have to leave the scene to check on the victim’s house. I shouldn’t be gone long and Detective Ferras should be here any minute. Just maintain the scene until one of us gets here.”
“You got it.”
Bosch pulled out his cell phone and called his partner.
“Where are you?”
“I just cleared Parker Center. I’m twenty minutes away.”
Bosch explained that he was leaving the scene and that Ferras needed to hurry. He disconnected, grabbed the evidence bag containing the key ring off the cruiser’s trunk and shoved it into his coat pocket.
As he got to his car he saw Walling already in the passenger seat. She was finishing a call and closing her cell phone.
“Who was that?” Bosch asked after getting in. “The president?”
“My partner,” she replied. “I told him to meet me at the house. Where’s your partner?”
Bosch started the car. As soon as they pulled out he began asking questions.
“If Stanley Kent wasn’t a terrorist, then what list was he on?”
“As a medical physicist he had direct access to radioactive materials. That put him on a list.”
Bosch thought of all the hospital name tags he had found in the dead man’s Porsche.
“Access where? In the hospitals?”
“Exactly. That’s where it’s kept. These are materials primarily used in the treatment of cancer.”
Bosch nodded. He was getting the picture but still didn’t have enough information.
“Okay, so what am I missing here, Rachel? Lay it out for me.”
“Stanley Kent had direct access to materials that some people in the world would like to get their hands on. Materials that could be very, very valuable to these other people. But not in the treatment of cancer.”
“Are you saying that this guy could just waltz into a hospital and get this stuff? Aren’t there regulations?”
“There are always regulations, Harry. But just having them is not always enough. Repetition, routine—these are the cracks in any security system. We used to leave the cockpit doors on commercial airlines unlocked. Now we don’t. It takes an event of life-altering consequences to change procedures and strengthen precautions. Do you understand what I am saying?”
He thought of the notations on the back of some of the ID cards in the victim’s Porsche. Could Stanley Kent have been so lax about the security of these materials that he wrote access combinations on the back of his ID cards? Bosch’s instincts told him the answer was probably yes.
“I understand,” he told Walling.
“So, then, if you were going to circumvent an existing security system, no matter how strong or weak, who would you go to?” she asked.
“Somebody with intimate knowledge of that security system.”
Bosch turned onto Arrowhead Drive and started looking at address numbers on the curb.
“So you’re saying this could be an event of life-altering consequences?”
“No, I’m not saying that. Not yet.”
“Did you know Kent?”
Bosch looked at Walling as he asked and she looked surprised by the question. It had been a long shot but he threw it out there for the reaction, not necessarily the answer. Walling turned from him and looked out her window before answering. Bosch knew the move. A classic tell. He knew she would now lie to him.
“No, I never met the man.”
Bosch pulled into the next driveway and stopped the car.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“This is it. It’s Kent’s house.”
They were in front of a house that had no lights on inside or out. It looked like no one lived there.
“No, it isn’t,” Walling said. “His house is down another block and—”
She stopped when she realized Bosch had smoked her out. Bosch stared at her for a moment in the dark car before speaking.
“You want to level with me now or do you want to get out of the car?”
“Look, Harry, I told you. There are things I can’t—”
“Get out of the car, Agent Walling. I’ll handle this myself.”
“Look, you have to under—”
“This is a homicide.
homicide. Get out of the car.”
She didn’t move.
“I can make one phone call and you’d be removed from this investigation before you got back to the scene,” she said.
“Then do it. I’d rather be kicked to the curb right now than be a mushroom for the feds. Isn’t that one of the bureau’s slogans? Keep the locals in the dark and bury them in cow shit? Well, not me, not tonight and not on my own case.”
He started to reach across her lap to open her door. Walling pushed him back and raised her hands in surrender.
“All right, all right,” she said. “What is it you want to know?”
“I want the truth this time. All of it.”
BOSCH TURNED IN HIS SEAT TO LOOK directly at Walling. He was not going to move the car until she started talking.
“You obviously knew who Stanley Kent was and where he lived,” he said. “You lied to me. Now, was he a terrorist or not?”
“I told you, no, and that is the truth. He was a citizen. He was a physicist. He was on a watch list because he handled radioactive sources which could be used—in the wrong hands—to harm members of the public.”
“What are you talking about? How would this happen?”
“Through exposure. And that could take many different forms. Individual assault—you remember last Thanksgiving the Russian who was dosed with polonium in London? That was a specific target attack, though there were ancillary victims as well. The material Kent had access to could also be used on a larger scale—a mall, a subway, whatever. It all depends on the quantity and, of course, the delivery device.”
“Delivery device? Are you talking about a bomb? Somebody could make a dirty bomb with the stuff he handled?”
“In some applications, yes.”
“I thought that was an urban legend, that there’s never actually been a dirty bomb.”
“The official designation is IED—improvised explosive device. And put it this way, it’s only an urban legend until precisely the moment that the first one is detonated.”
Bosch nodded and got back on track. He gestured to the house in front of them.
“How did you know this isn’t the Kent house?”
Walling rubbed her forehead as though she were tired of his annoying questions and had a headache.
“Because I have been to his house before. Okay? Early last year my partner and I came to Kent’s house and briefed him and his wife on the potential dangers of his profession. We did a security check on their home and told them to take precautions. We had been asked to do it by the Department of Homeland Security. Okay?”
“Yeah, okay. And was that routine for the Tactical Intelligence Unit and the Department of Homeland Security, or was that because there had been a threat to him?”
“Not a threat specifically aimed at him, no. Look, we’re wasting—”
“Then to who? A threat to who?”
Walling adjusted her position in the seat and let her breath out in exasperation.
“There wasn’t a threat to anyone specifically. We were simply taking precautions. Sixteen months ago someone entered a cancer clinic in Greensboro, North Carolina, circumvented elaborate security measures and removed twenty-two small tubes of a radioisotope called cesium one-thirty-seven. The legitimate medical use of this material in that setting was in the treatment of gynecological cancer. We don’t know who got in there or why, but the material was taken. When news of the theft went out on the wire somebody in the Joint Terrorism Task Force here in L.A. thought it would be a good idea to assess the security of these materials in local hospitals and to warn those who have access to and handle the stuff to take precautions and to be alert. Can we
“And that was you.”
. You got it. It was the federal trickle-down theory at work. It fell to me and my partner to go out and talk to people like Stanley Kent. We met him and his wife at their house so we could do a security check of the place at the same time we told him that he should start watching his back. That is the same reason I was the one who got the call when his name came up on the flag.”