Authors: Michael Connelly
Tags: #Mystery & Detective, #Suspense, #Fiction, #General, #Crime, #Thrillers, #Police Procedural
“What about the LAPD?” he asked instead.
“The LAPD?” Brenner said, jumping on the question ahead of Walling. “You mean what about you, Bosch? Is that what you’re asking?”
“Yeah, that’s right. Where do I stand in this?”
Brenner spread his hands in a gesture of openness.
“Don’t worry, you’re in. You’re with us all the way.”
The federal agent nodded like it was a promise as good as gold.
“Good,” Bosch said. “That’s just what I wanted to hear.”
He looked at Walling for confirmation of her partner’s statement. But she looked away.
WHEN ALICIA KENT FINALLY CAME OUT of the master bedroom she had brushed her hair and washed her face but had put on only the white robe. Bosch now saw how attractive she was. Small and dark and exotic-looking in some way. He guessed that taking her husband’s name had hidden a bloodline from somewhere far away. Her black hair had a luminescent quality to it. It framed an olive face that was beautiful and sorrowful at the same time.
She noticed Brenner and he nodded and introduced himself. Alicia Kent seemed so dazed by what was happening that she showed no recognition of Brenner in the way that she had remembered Walling. Brenner directed her to the couch and told her to sit down.
“Where is my husband?” she demanded, this time with a voice that was stronger and calmer than before. “I want to know what is going on.”
Rachel sat down next to her, ready to console if necessary. Brenner took a chair near the fireplace. Bosch remained standing. He never liked to be sitting down all cozy when he delivered this sort of news.
“Mrs. Kent,” Bosch said, taking the lead in a proprietary effort to keep his hold of the case. “I am a homicide detective. I am here because earlier tonight we found the body of a man we believe to be your husband. I am very sorry to tell you this.”
Her head dropped forward as she received the news, then her hands came up and they covered her face. A shudder went through her body and the sound of a helpless moan came from behind her hands. Then she started to cry, deep sobs that shook her shoulders so much that she had to lower her hands to hold the robe from coming open. Walling reached over and put a hand on the back of her neck.
Brenner offered to get her a glass of water and she nodded. While he was gone Bosch studied the woman and saw the tears streaking her cheeks. It was dirty work, telling someone that their loved one was dead. He had done it hundreds of times but it wasn’t something you ever got used to or even good at. It had also been done to him. When his own mother was murdered more than forty years before, he got the news from a cop just after he climbed out of a swimming pool at a youth hall. His response was to jump back in and try to never come back up.
Brenner delivered the water, and the brand-new widow drank half of it down. Before anyone could ask a question there was a knock on the door and Bosch stepped over and let in two paramedics carrying big equipment boxes. Bosch moved out of the way while they came forward to assess the woman’s physical condition. He signaled Walling and Brenner into the kitchen, where they could confer in whispers. He realized that they should have talked about this earlier.
“So how do you want to handle her?” Bosch asked.
Brenner spread his hands wide again as though he was open to suggestions. It appeared to be his signature gesture.
“I think you keep the lead,” the agent said. “We’ll step in when needed. If you don’t like that we could—”
“No, that’s good. I’ll keep the lead.”
He looked at Walling, waiting for an objection, but she was fine with it, too. He turned to leave the kitchen but Brenner stopped him.
“Bosch, I want to be up front with you,” Brenner said.
Bosch turned back.
“Meaning I had you checked out. The word is you—”
“What do you mean you checked me out? You asked questions about me?”
“I needed to know who we’re working with. All I knew about you prior to this is what I’d heard about Echo Park. I wanted—”
“If you have any questions you can ask me.”
Brenner raised his hands, palms out.
Bosch left the kitchen and stood in the living room, waiting for the paramedics to finish with Alicia Kent. One of the medical men was putting some sort of cream on the chafe marks on her wrists and ankles. The other was taking a blood-pressure reading. Bosch saw that bandages had been placed on her neck and one wrist, apparently covering wounds that he hadn’t noticed before.
His phone buzzed and Bosch went back into the kitchen to take the call. He noticed that Walling and Brenner were gone, apparently having slipped into another part of the house. It made Bosch anxious. He didn’t know what they were looking for or up to.
The call was from his partner. Ferras had finally made it to the crime scene.
“Is the body still there?” Bosch asked.
“No, the ME just cleared the scene,” Ferras said. “I think Forensics is finishing up, too.”
Bosch updated him on the direction the case appeared to be going, telling him about the federal involvement and the potentially dangerous materials Stanley Kent had had access to. He then directed him to start knocking on doors and looking for witnesses who might have seen or heard something relating to the killing of Stanley Kent. He knew it was a long shot, because no one had called 9-1-1 after the shooting.
“Should I do that now, Harry? It’s the middle of the night and people are slee—”
“Yes, Ignacio, you should do it now.”
Bosch wasn’t worried about waking people up. There was a good chance that the generator that powered the crime scene lights had awakened the neighborhood anyway. But the canvassing of the neighborhood had to be done and it was always better to find witnesses sooner rather than later.
When Bosch came out of the kitchen the paramedics had packed up and were leaving. They told Bosch that Alicia Kent was physically fine, with minor wounds and skin abrasions. They also said they had given her a pill to help calm her and a tube of the cream to continue to apply to the chafe marks on her wrists and ankles.
Walling was sitting on the couch next to her again and Brenner was back in his seat by the fireplace.
Bosch sat down on the chair directly across the glass coffee table from Alicia Kent.
“Mrs. Kent,” he began, “we are very sorry for your loss and the trauma you have been through. But it is very urgent that we move quickly with the investigation. In a perfect world we would wait until you were ready to talk to us. But it’s not a perfect world. You know that better than we do now. We need to ask you questions about what happened here tonight.”
She folded her arms across her chest and nodded that she understood.
“Then let’s get started,” Bosch said. “Can you tell us what happened?”
“Two men,” she responded tearfully. “I never saw them. I mean their faces. I never saw their faces. There was a knock at the door and I answered. There was no one there. Then when I started to close the door they were there. They jumped out. They had on masks and hoods—like a sweatshirt with a hood. They pushed their way in and they grabbed me. They had a knife and one of them grabbed me and held it against my throat. He told me he would cut my throat if I didn’t do exactly what he told me to do.”
She lightly touched the bandage on her neck.
“Do you remember what time this was?” Bosch asked.
“It was almost six o’clock,” she said. “It had been dark for a while and I was about to start dinner. Stanley comes home most nights at seven. Unless he’s working down in the South County or up in the desert.”
The reminder of her husband’s habits brought a new rush of tears into Alicia Kent’s eyes and voice. Bosch tried to keep her on point by moving to the next question. He thought he already detected a slowing down of her speech. The pill the paramedics gave her was taking effect.
“What did the men do, Mrs. Kent?” he asked.
“They took me to the bedroom. They made me sit down on the bed and take off all my clothes. Then they—one of them—started to ask me questions. I was scared. I guess I got hysterical and he slapped me and he yelled at me. He told me to calm down and answer his questions.”
“What did he ask you?”
“I can’t remember everything. I was so scared.”
“Try, Mrs. Kent. It’s important. It will help us find your husband’s killers.”
“He asked me if we had a gun and he asked me where the—”
“Wait a minute, Mrs. Kent,” Bosch said. “Let’s go one at a time. He asked you if you had a gun. What did you tell him?”
“I was scared. I said, yes, we had a gun. He asked where it was and I told him it was in the drawer by the bed on my husband’s side. It was the gun we got after you warned us about the dangers Stan faced with his job.”
She said this last part while looking directly at Walling.
“Weren’t you afraid that they would kill you with it?” Bosch asked. “Why did you tell them where the gun was?”
Alicia Kent looked down at her hands.
“I was sitting there naked. I was already sure they were going to rape me and kill me. I guess I thought it didn’t matter anymore.”
Bosch nodded as if he understood.
“What else did they ask you, Mrs. Kent?”
“They wanted to know where the keys to the car were. I told them. I told them everything they wanted to know.”
“Is that your car they were talking about?”
“Yes, my car. In the garage. I keep the keys on the kitchen counter.”
“I checked the garage. It’s empty.”
“I heard the garage door—after they were here. They must’ve taken the car.”
Brenner abruptly stood up.
“We need to get this out,” he interjected. “Can you tell us what kind of car it is and the license plate number?”
“It’s a Chrysler Three Hundred. I can’t remember the number. I could look it up in our insurance file.”
Brenner held his hands up to stop her from getting up.
“Not necessary. I’ll be able to get it. I’m going to call it in right away.”
He got up to go to the kitchen to make the call without disturbing the interview. Bosch went back to his questions.
“What else did they ask you, Mrs. Kent?”
“They wanted our camera. The camera that worked with my husband’s computer. I told them Stanley had a camera that I thought was in his desk. Whenever I answered a question, one man—the one who asked them—would then translate to the other, and then that man left the room. I guess he went to get the camera.”
Now Walling stood up and headed toward the hallway leading to the bedrooms.
“Rachel, don’t touch anything,” Bosch said. “I have a crime scene team coming.”
Walling waved as she disappeared down the hall. Brenner then came back into the room and nodded to Bosch.
“The BOLO’s out,” he said.
Alicia Kent asked what a BOLO was.
“It means ‘be on the lookout,’” Bosch explained. “They’ll be looking for your car. What happened next with the two men, Mrs. Kent?”
She grew tearful again as she answered.
“They . . . they tied me in that awful way and gagged me with one of my husband’s neckties. Then after the one came back in with the camera, the other took a picture of me like that.”
Bosch noted the look of burning humiliation on her face.
“He took a photograph?”
“Yes, that’s all. Then they both left the room. The one who spoke English bent down and whispered that my husband would come to rescue me. Then he left.”
That brought a long space of silence before Bosch continued.
“After they left the bedroom, did they leave the house right away?” he asked.
The woman shook her head.
“I heard them talking for a little while, then I heard the garage door. It rumbles in the house like an earthquake. I felt it twice—it opened and closed. After that I thought they were gone.”
Brenner cut into the interview again.
“When I was in the kitchen I think I heard you say that one of the men translated for the other. Do you know what language they were speaking?”
Bosch was annoyed with Brenner for jumping in. He intended to ask about the language the intruders used but was carefully covering one aspect of the interview at a time. He had found in previous cases that it worked best with traumatized victims.
“I am not sure. The one who spoke in English had an accent but I don’t know where it was from. I think Middle Eastern. I think when they spoke to each other it was Arabic or something. It was foreign, very guttural. But I don’t know the different languages.”
Brenner nodded as if her answer was confirming something.
“Do you remember anything else about what the men might have asked you or said in English?” Bosch asked.
“No, that’s all.”
“You said they wore masks. What kind of masks?”
She thought for a moment before answering.
“The pullover kind. Like you see robbers put on in movies or people wear for skiing.”
“A wool ski mask.”
“Okay, were they the kind with one hole for both eyes or was there a separate hole for each eye.”
“Um, separate, I think. Yes, separate.”
“Was there an opening for the mouth?”
“Uh . . . yes, there was. I remember watching the man’s mouth when he spoke in the other language. I was trying to understand him.”
“That’s good, Mrs. Kent. You’re being very helpful. What haven’t I asked you?”
“I don’t understand.”
“What detail do you remember that I haven’t asked you for?”
She thought about it and then shook her head.
“I don’t know. I think I’ve told you everything I can remember.”
Bosch wasn’t convinced. He began to go through the story with her again, coming at the same information from new angles. It was a tried-and-true interview technique for eliciting new details and it did not fail him. The most interesting bit of new information to emerge in the second telling was that the man who spoke English also asked her what the password was to her e-mail account.
“Why would he want that?” Bosch asked.