Authors: Michael Connelly
Tags: #Mystery & Detective, #Suspense, #Fiction, #General, #Crime, #Thrillers, #Police Procedural
“I don’t know,” Alicia Kent said. “I didn’t ask. I just gave them what they wanted.”
Near the end of the second telling of her ordeal the forensics team arrived and Bosch called for a break in the questioning. While Alicia Kent remained on the couch, he walked the tech team back to the master bedroom so they could start there. He then stepped into a corner of the room and called his partner. Ferras reported that he had found nobody so far who had seen or heard anything on the overlook. Bosch told him that when he wanted a break from knocking on doors he should check into Stanley Kent’s ownership of a gun. They needed to find the make and model. It was looking like his own gun was probably the weapon he was killed with.
As Bosch closed the phone Walling called to him from the home office. Harry found her and Brenner standing behind the desk and looking at a computer screen.
“Look at this,” Walling said.
“I told you,” he said, “you shouldn’t be touching anything yet.”
“We don’t have the luxury of time anymore,” Brenner said. “Look at this.”
Bosch came around the desk to look at the computer.
“Her e-mail account was left open,” Walling said. “I went into the sent mail file. And this was sent to her husband’s e-mail at six-twenty-one p.m. last night.”
She clicked a button and opened up the e-mail that had been sent from Alicia Kent’s account to her husband’s. The subject line said
HOME EMERGENCY: READ IMMEDIATELY!
Embedded in the body of the e-mail was a photograph of Alicia Kent naked and hog-tied on the bed. The impact of the photo would be obvious to anyone, not just a husband.
Below the photograph was a message:
We have your wife. Retrieve for us all cesium sources available to you. Bring them in safe containment to the Mulholland overlook near your home by eight o'clock. We will be watching you. If you tell anyone or make a call we will know. The consequence will be your wife being raped, tortured and left in to many pieces to count. Use all precautions while handling sources. Do not be late or we will kill her.
Bosch read the message twice and believed he felt the same terror Stanley Kent must have felt.
“‘We will be watching . . . we will know . . . we will kill her,’” Walling said. “No contractions. The ‘too’ in ‘too many pieces’ is spelled wrong and then the odd construction of some of the sentences. I don’t think this was written by someone whose original language is English.”
As she said it Bosch saw it and knew that she was right.
“They send the message right from here,” Brenner said. “The husband gets it at the office or on his PDA—did he have a PDA?”
Bosch had no expertise in this area. He hesitated.
“A personal digital assistant,” Walling prompted. “You know, like a Palm Pilot or a phone with all the gadgets.”
“I think so,” he said. “There was a BlackBerry cell phone recovered. It looks like it has a mini-keyboard.”
“That works,” Brenner said. “So no matter where he is, he gets this message and can probably view the photo, too.”
All three of them were quiet while the impact of the e-mail registered. Finally, Bosch spoke, feeling guilty now about holding back earlier.
“I just remembered something. There was an ID tag on the body. From Saint Aggy’s up in the Valley.”
Brenner’s eyes took on a sharpness.
“You just remembered a key piece of information like that?” he asked angrily.
“That’s right. I for—”
“It doesn’t matter now,” Walling interjected. “Saint Aggy’s is a women’s cancer clinic. Cesium is used almost exclusively for treating cervical and uterine cancer.”
“Then we better get going,” he said.
SAINT AGATHA’S CLINIC FOR WOMEN was in Sylmar at the north end of the San Fernando Valley. Because it was the dead of night they were making good time on the 170 Freeway up. Bosch was behind the wheel of his Mustang, one eye on the fuel needle. He knew he was going to need gas before coming back down into the city. It was he and Brenner in the car. It had been decided—by Brenner—that Walling should stay behind with Alicia Kent, to continue both questioning and calming her. Walling didn’t seem happy about the assignment but Brenner, asserting his seniority in the partnership, didn’t give her room to debate it.
Brenner spent most of the drive taking and making a series of cell calls to and from superiors and fellow agents. It was clear to Bosch from the side of things he was able to hear that the big federal machine was gearing up for battle. A greater alarm had now been sounded. The e-mail sent to Stanley Kent had brought things into better focus and what was once a federal curiosity had now gone completely off the scale.
When Brenner finally closed the phone and put it back in his jacket pocket he turned slightly in his seat and looked over at Bosch.
“I’ve got a RAT team heading to Saint Aggy’s,” he said. “They’ll go into the materials safe to check it out.”
“A rat team?”
“What’s their ETA?”
“Didn’t ask but they might beat us. They’ve got a chopper.”
Bosch was impressed. It meant that there had been a rapid-response team on duty somewhere in the middle of the night. He thought about how he had been awake and waiting for the call out that night. The members of the radiological-attack team must wait for the call they hope never comes. He remembered what he had heard about the LAPD’s own OHS unit taking training in urban assault tactics. He wondered if Captain Hadley had a RAT team, too.
“They’re going full field on this,” Brenner said. “The Department of Homeland Security is overseeing from DC. This morning at nine there will be meetings on both coasts to bring everybody together on it.”
“Who is everybody?”
“There’s a protocol. We’ll bring in Homeland, the JTTF, everybody. It’ll be alphabet soup. The NRC, the DOE, RAP . . . who knows, before we get this contained we might even have FEMA setting up a tent. It’s going to be federal pandemonium.”
Bosch didn’t know what all the acronyms stood for but didn’t need to. They all spelled out
“Who will be running the show?”
Brenner looked over at Bosch.
“Everybody and nobody. Like I said, pandemonium. If we open up that safe at Saint Aggy’s and the cesium is gone, then our best shot at tracking it and getting it back will be to do it before all hell breaks loose at nine and we get micromanaged to death from Washington.”
Bosch nodded. He thought maybe he had misjudged Brenner. The agent seemed to want to get things done, not wallow in the bureaucratic mire.
“And what’s the LAPD status going to be in a full-field investigation?”
“I already told you, the LAPD remains in. Nothing changes on that. You remain in, Harry. My guess is that bridges are already being built between our people and your people. I know the LAPD has its own Homeland Security office. I am sure they will be brought in. We’re obviously going to need all hands on deck with this.”
Bosch glanced over at him. Brenner looked serious.
“Have you worked with our OHS before?” Bosch asked.
“On occasion. We shared some intelligence on a few things.”
Bosch nodded but felt that Brenner was being disingenuous or was completely naive about the gulf between the locals and the feds. But he noted that he had been called by his first name and wondered if that was one of the bridges being built.
“You said you checked me out. Who did you check with?”
“Harry, we’re working well here, why stir it up? If I made a mistake I apologize.”
“Fine. Who’d you check me out with?”
“Look, all I’m going to tell you is that I asked Agent Walling who the LAPD point man was and she gave me your name. I made a few calls while driving in. I was told you were a very capable detective. That you had more than thirty years in, that a few years back you retired, didn’t like it too much and came back to the job to work cold cases. Things went sideways in Echo Park—a little thing you dragged Agent Walling into. You were off the job a few months while that was, uh, cleared up and now you’re back and assigned to Homicide Special.”
“Okay. The word I got is that you can be difficult to get along with—especially when it comes to working with the federal government. But I have to say, so far I don’t see any of that at all.”
Bosch figured that most of this information had come from Rachel—he remembered seeing her on the phone and her saying it was her partner. He was disappointed if she had said such things about him. And he knew that Brenner was probably holding back most of it. The truth was that he’d had so many run-ins with the feds—going back well before he ever met Rachel Walling—that they probably had a file on him as thick as a murder book.
After a minute or so of silence Bosch decided to change direction and spoke again.
“Tell me about cesium,” he said.
“What did Agent Walling tell you?”
“It’s a by-product. The fission of uranium and plutonium creates cesium. When Chernobyl hit meltdown, cesium was the stuff that was dispersed into the air. It comes in powder or a silver-gray metal. When they conducted nuke tests in the South Pacific—”
“I don’t mean the science. I don’t care about the science. Tell me about what we are dealing with here.”
Brenner thought for a moment.
“Okay,” he said. “The stuff we’re talking about comes in pieces about the size of a pencil eraser. It is then contained in a sealed stainless steel tube about the size of a forty-five-caliber bullet cartridge. When used in the treatment of a gynecological cancer it is placed inside the woman’s body—in the uterus—for a calculated amount of time and it irradiates the targeted area. It is supposed to be very effective in quick doses. And it is the job of a guy like Stanley Kent to make that calculus—to run the physics down and determine how long a dose is called for. He would then go and get the cesium out of the hospital’s hot safe and deliver it in person to the oncologist in the operating room. The system is set up so that the doctor administering the treatment actually handles the stuff for as little time as possible. Because the surgeon can’t wear any protection while performing a procedure, he’s got to limit his exposure, you know what I mean?”
“Do these tubes protect whoever handles them?”
“No, the only thing that knocks down the gamma rays from cesium is lead. The safe they keep the tubes in is lined with lead. The device they transport them in is made of lead.”
“Okay. So how bad is this stuff going to be if it gets out there in the world?”
Brenner gave it some thought before answering.
“Out there in the world it is all about quantity, delivery and location,” he said. “Those are the variables. Cesium has a thirty-year half-life. Generally, they consider ten half-lifes the safety margin.”
“You’re losing me. What’s the bottom line?”
“The bottom line is that the radiation danger diminishes by half every thirty years. If you set off a good amount of this stuff in an enclosed environment—like maybe a subway station or an office building—then that place could be shut down for three hundred years.”
Bosch was stunned as he registered this.
“What about people?” he asked.
“Also depends on dispersal and containment. A high-intensity exposure could kill you within a few hours. But if it’s dispersed by an IED in a subway station, then my guess is the immediate casualties would be very low. But a body count is not what this would be about. It’s the fear factor that would be important to these people. You set something off like this domestically and what’s important is the wave of fear it sends through the country. A place like Los Angeles? It would never be the same again.”
Bosch just nodded. There was nothing else to say.
AT SAINT AGGY’S THEY ENTERED through the main lobby and asked the receptionist for the chief of security. They were told that the security chief worked days but that she would locate the night-shift security supervisor. While they waited they heard the helicopter land on the long front lawn of the medical center and soon the four-member radiological team came in, each man wearing a radiation suit and carrying a face guard. The leader of the group—it said KYLE REID on his nameplate—-carried a handheld radiation monitor.
Finally after two prompts to the woman at the front desk, a man who looked like he had been rousted from a bed in a spare patient room greeted them in the lobby. He said his name was Ed Romo and he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off the hazmat suits worn by the members of the lab team. Brenner badged Romo and took charge. Bosch didn’t object. He knew that they were now on turf where the federal agent would be best suited to walk point and maintain investigative velocity.
“We need to go to the hot lab and check the materials inventory,” Brenner said. “We also need to see any records or key-card data that will show us who has been in and out of there in the last twenty-four hours.”
Romo didn’t move. He paused as if groping for understanding of the scene in front of him.
“What’s this about?” he finally asked.
Brenner took a step closer to him and invaded his space.
“I just told you what it’s about,” he said. “We need to get into the hot lab in oncology. If you can’t get us in there, then find somebody who can. Now.”
“I gotta make a call first,” Romo said.
“Good. Make it. I’ll give you two minutes and then we’re going to run you over.”
The whole time he was making the threat Brenner was smiling and nodding.
Romo took out a cell phone and stepped away from the group to make the call. Brenner gave him the space. He looked at Bosch with a sardonic smile.
“Last year I did a security survey here. They had a key lock on the lab and the safe and that was it. They upgraded after that. But you build a better mousetrap and the mice just get smarter.”