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Authors: Michael Connelly

The Dark Hours (11 page)

BOOK: The Dark Hours
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“My name is Renée Ballard, I’m a detective with the LAPD and I need Evelyn Edwards to call me back tonight. I am investigating a violent crime involving one of her clients. Please call me back.”

Ballard disconnected the call and sat unmoving for a long moment, half expecting Edwards to call back immediately. Yet she knew that was unlikely. She started thinking about next moves and the need to start a cross-referencing file into which she would put the data she would receive from the three victims of the Midnight Men.

She opened a new file folder on her laptop, but before she could even name it, her phone buzzed. It was Evelyn Edwards.

“Sorry to interrupt your Friday night.”

“Detective, I must say, that was not the kind of message one would like to receive on any night. Which of my clients has been victimized?”

“Cindy Carpenter. You handled her divorce two years ago.”

“Yes, she’s my client. What happened?”

“She was the victim of a home invasion. Because we have an open investigation, I’m not going to go into details. I hope you understand that.”

There was a moment during which Edwards read between the lines.

“Is Cynthia okay?” she asked.

“She’s safe and doing better,” Ballard said.

“Was it Reginald?”

“Why would you ask that?”

“Because I don’t understand why you would call me if this didn’t have anything to do with her divorce and her ex-husband.”

“I can tell you that her ex-husband is not a suspect at this time. But any thorough investigation includes looking at all possibilities, so that’s what we’re doing. I looked up the divorce records and saw that they were sealed. This is what brings me to call you.”

“Yes, the records are sealed for a good reason. I would be in violation of a court order as well as my obligations to attorney-client privilege and confidentiality if I were to discuss such matters with you.”

“I thought maybe there was a work-around on that, that you could tell me about the relationship without breaking the seal, so to speak.”

“Did you not ask Cynthia?”

“I did and she was reluctant to talk about it today. I didn’t want to press it. She’s had a difficult day.”

“What are you not telling me, Detective?”

It was always the lawyer who wanted to ask questions instead of answer them. Ballard ignored this.

“Can you tell me this … ” Ballard said. “Who asked the judge to seal the records?”

There was a long pause while Edwards apparently reviewed the rules of law to determine if she could answer.

“I can tell you that I asked that the judge seal the record,” she finally said. “And that request would have been in open court.”

Ballard got the hint.

“You know I am not going to be able to find a transcript of that hearing on a Friday night,” Ballard said. “Maybe not even on Monday. Would it break the rules for you to summarize why you asked the judge in open court to seal the record?”

“Without first consulting my client, I will only tell you this,” Edwards said. “The cause of action in the divorce contained allegations of things Mr. Carpenter did to my client to humiliate her. Terrible things. She didn’t want those allegations contained in any public record. The judge agreed, the file was sealed — and that’s all I can tell you.”

“Reggie’s a bad guy, isn’t he?”

It was a shot in the dark. Ballard thought maybe she’d get a response, but Edwards didn’t bite.

“What else can I do for you, Detective Ballard?” she asked instead.

“I appreciate your time, Ms. Edwards. Thank you for calling me back.”

“Not at all. I hope you get whoever it was who committed this crime.”

“I intend to.”

Ballard disconnected. She leaned back in her chair to consider what she had learned from Edwards and the call to Reginald
Carpenter. She had just pulled on a string without much reason other than her gut feeling about the way Cindy Carpenter talked about her ex. But this case was about two serial rapists who had attacked three different women. That this would connect to Reginald Carpenter, whether he was an abusive husband or not, seemed far-fetched. Plus, he claimed he had been in Palm Springs. She doubted he would have mentioned that to a detective if it could not be backed up.

Still, the information gleaned from the two calls stuck with Ballard and she decided that at some point she needed to talk to Cindy Carpenter about her ex, despite it obviously being a subject she wanted left alone. She decided in the meantime to go back to the new focus of the case: finding the nexus that connected the three known victims.

She called the second victim, Angela Ashburn, and talked her into filling out the questionnaire that would be emailed to her. Ashburn did not exhibit the same fear and upset that Bobbi Klein had. Though expressing reluctance to reopen thoughts about the assault, she ultimately agreed to work on the Lambkin survey the next day, since she would be off from work. Ballard thanked her and said she would check in with her Saturday afternoon.

Ballard went back to work on her laptop, setting up a file in which she would collate the information that would come in from the victims. She had just begun the task when she heard her call sign come up on the rover she had placed on the desk. She could tell it was Lieutenant Rivera by the slight accent in his voice.

“Go for six-William-twenty-six.”

She waited thirty seconds for Rivera to come back up on the radio.

“Code six, Adam-fifteen, Cahuenga and Odin.”

This meant patrol officers needed help with an investigation
and were requesting a detective. It didn’t indicate what the investigation or crime was about. Ballard was often called to a scene where she did not know the details ahead of time. Nine out of ten times a detective was actually not needed and the call was an attempt by patrol officers to lay off some of their responsibilities and work on her. In this case she knew the Adam-15 car was Vitello and Smallwood, and she expected this to be one of those times. But she responded in the affirmative to Rivera without asking for additional information.

“Roger, six-William-twenty-six.”

She closed her laptop, put it in her briefcase, and grabbed the rover. Then she went down the back hallway to the station house door.

14

Coming out of the station’s parking lot, Ballard went east one block, passing the fire station, and took a left onto Cahuenga. It was a straight shot up to the Cahuenga Pass, where she saw the blue flashers up ahead at the intersection with Odin. She pulled in behind the patrol car, which was behind a dark coupe. Vitello and Smallwood stood between the two cars with a man who had his wrists cuffed behind his back.

Ballard got out with her rover in hand.

“Fellas,” she said. “What’s up?”

Smallwood signaled her to follow him to the front of the coupe so they could talk out of earshot of the man in cuffs.

“Hey, Mallard, we got one of the dirtbags you’re looking for,” Smallwood said.

Ballard ignored the play on her name from the officer whose own name provided so much more comedy in the division.

“What dirtbags?” Ballard asked.

“You know, the tag team,” Smallwood said. “The rapists that hit last night. This guy’s one of them.”

Ballard looked over Smallwood’s shoulder at the man in handcuffs. He stood with his head down in shame.

“And how do you know that?” she asked. “Why’d you stop him?”

“We stopped him on a deuce,” Smallwood said. “But check out the floor of the back seat. We didn’t search in case you need a warrant or something. We didn’t want to fuck anything up, you know?”

“Let me see your light. Did you talk to this guy at all?”

“Not at all. Didn’t want to fuck up.”

“Yeah, you said that.”

Smallwood gave her his flashlight and she walked down the side of the coupe and pointed the beam through the windows into the car. She scanned the front seats and center console before moving to the back. In the footwell on the passenger side she saw an open cardboard box, and in it she could see rolls of duct tape and blue tape and a box cutter. She felt the beginning of an adrenaline rush.

She stepped behind the car and put the light on the man in handcuffs, blinding him and forcing him to turn away. He had dark, curly hair, was mid-thirties, and had acne scars on his cheeks.

“Sir, where were you coming from when the officers stopped you?”

“I was up on Mulholland.”

“You were drinking?”

“I had a couple beers after I finished my work. When I was parked at the overlook.”

Ballard picked up what sounded like a slight English accent. None of the victims of the Midnight Men had reported that either of the rapists had an accent. Still, she knew it could be a ploy.

“Where were you going just now when you got stopped?”

“Um, just home.”

“Where’s that?”

Vitello handed her a driver’s license. She put the light on it and read it as the man gave the matching address. He was Mitchell
Carr, thirty-four years old and living on Commonwealth in Los Feliz. Ballard realized he could be her neighbor. She handed the license back to Vitello.

“You run him?” she asked.

“He’s clean except for motor vehicle violations,” Vitello said.

“I only had two beers,” Carr added helpfully.

Ballard looked at him. She noticed something clipped to his belt and put the light on it. It was a retractable tape measure. The adrenaline buzz started to ebb. This didn’t feel right.

“Where are you from?” she asked. “Originally.”

“New South Wales,” Carr said. “A long time ago.”

Vitello leaned toward her confidentially.

“Australia,” he whispered.

Ballard raised her hand and gestured him back without touching him.

“What do you do for a living, sir?” she asked.

“Interior design work,” Carr said.

“You’re a designer?”

“Well, no, I work for an interior designer.”

“Doing what?”

“Delivering and installing furniture, hanging pictures, taking measurements, that sort of thing.”

Ballard looked at Smallwood, who had joined them between the cars. She handed him back his flashlight and turned back to Carr.

“What’s with the box cutter and the tape in your car?” she asked.

“I was taping out furniture dimensions in a house,” Carr said. “So the owner could see where everything was going to go. How it would fit.”

“This was up on Mulholland?”

“Actually, it was on a street up there called Outpost. Right by Mulholland.”

“Do you carry a hand vacuum on your job?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like a battery-operated vacuum — a Dustbuster type of thing.”

“Oh. No, not really. I supervise furniture installations and those guys usually do the cleanup after.”

“Do you mind if we look in your trunk, Mr. Carr?”

“Go ahead. What do you think I did?”

Ballard ignored the question and nodded to Smallwood. He went to the open driver’s door, took a few seconds to locate the trunk release, and finally popped it open. Ballard stepped over to look, Vitello following.

“Stay with him,” Ballard instructed.

“Right,” Vitello said.

Ballard checked the trunk. There were more open boxes containing equipment for Carr’s stated profession — rolls of tape, more box cutters, small cans of paint and industrial cleaners. No hand vacuum, coveralls, ski masks, or premade eye masks.

“Thank you, Mr. Carr,” she said.

Ballard turned to Smallwood and Vitello.

“And thank you two for wasting my time.”

She pushed past them and started back toward her car, bringing the rover up to her mouth and radioing the com center that she was clearing the scene. Smallwood followed her.

“Mallard,” he said. “Are you sure?”

Returning to her car, Ballard said nothing. As she opened the door, she stared back at Smallwood, who was still waiting for a response.

“Did you check the height on his DL?” she asked.

“Uh, no,” Smallwood said.

“Five eleven. We’re looking for guys about five six, five eight max.”

She got in the car, checked her side mirror, and then pulled out, leaving Smallwood standing there.

Since she was already out and about, she decided to follow through with her plan to drive up into the Dell to check things out in the dark hours. She slowly cruised down the street, passing Cindy Carpenter’s house. The living room lights were on behind drawn curtains. Ballard also saw down the side of the house a light in what would be the guest bedroom. She thought Cindy had probably moved to that room to sleep, leaving behind the room where she had been attacked. She wondered if Cindy would sleep with the lights on from now on.

Deciding to walk up and down the street, she drove down to the cul-de-sac and pulled to the curb. The chill of the night might reinvigorate her and she would see all the shadows and dark places.

The first thing she noted as she walked was that, while the street seemed quiet, the background sound from the nearby 101 freeway was noticeable. Earlier she had been on Harry Bosch’s back deck that overlooked the same freeway from the other side, but the traffic noise had not been as intrusive as it was up here. She also imagined that the neighborhood would hear the faint sounds of the Hollywood Bowl, which was positioned directly across the freeway. That was probably a good sound to hear, and would have been missed for almost a year now with the pandemic closure.

The streetlights were positioned too far apart to provide continuous lighting on the street. There were pockets of darkness, and the Carpenter house was in one of these, shaded deeper because the nearest streetlight — at the east end of the property — was out. Ballard pulled out the small light she always carried in the pocket
of her Van Heusen jacket and put it up toward the opaque glass globe at the top of the post. It was an antique streetlamp, the kind favored by the residents of the wealthy hillside neighborhoods, where they were more concerned with design and aesthetics than the need for light as a deterrent to crime. Many of the neighborhoods in the hills and wealthy communities were still lit by the dim glow of these lamps. In L.A., decisions about style, intensity, and number of streetlights were left to neighborhood homeowner groups to decide. Consequently, there were dozens of different designs all through the city and most homeowner associations fought any effort to modernize the streetlamps.

The fogged glass top of the light appeared to be intact. Ballard could not determine whether it had been damaged or tampered with. She tracked her flashlight beam down the precast stone post to the base, where there was a steel plate through which the light’s internal wiring could be accessed. She was about to stoop down to look for signs of tampering on the plate, when she was startled by a man’s voice from behind her.

“That’s an acorn.”

Ballard whipped around and put her light into the eyes of an old man carrying a small dog in both arms. The dog looked like a Chihuahua and appeared just as old and decrepit as its owner. The man tried to raise a hand to block the light but could not reach high enough without possibly dropping his dog. Ballard lowered the light and pulled her mask up over her mouth and nose.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “You startled me.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to,” the man said. “I see you’re admiring our acorn.”

“You mean the light?”

“Yes, we call them acorns because of the shape of the globe, you see. We are very protective of them.”

“Well, this one isn’t doing too well.”

“It’s been reported to the BSL. I called personally.”

“You live on this street?”

“Oh, yes. More than fifty years. I even knew Peter the Hermit back in the day.”

Ballard had no idea whom or what he was referencing.

“I’m a police officer,” she said. “A detective. Do you walk this street often at night?”

“Every night. Frederic here has gotten too old to walk, so I carry him. I know he likes it.”

“When did you report that this … acorn … was out?”

“Yesterday morning. I wanted it fixed before the holiday but they didn’t get it done. But I told them, you people screwed it up, get back out here and fix it. I didn’t want it put to the back of the line. I know how the BSL works.”

“And what is the BSL? And who screwed what up?”

“The Bureau of Street Lighting. But I say it means Bull Shit Lies. They’re supposed to preserve but they don’t care about history. Or beauty. They want the whole city to look the same. The ugly orange glow from their big steel poles. Sodium vapor. That’s why they’re out here sabotaging us, if you ask me.”

At that moment, Ballard became very interested in the old man.

“What is your name, sir?”

“Jack. Jack Kersey. Chairman of the street-lighting committee, Hollywood Dell Association.”

“When did you notice that this one was out?”

“Wednesday night on our walk — day before yesterday.”

“And you think it was sabotaged?”

“I know it was. I saw them up here with their van. How many BSL guys does it take to unscrew a streetlight? I guess the answer’s two. They were here and then that night it never came on.”

Ballard had been pointing her light at the ground. She now pointed the beam back at the access plate at the base of the streetlight.

“They were working on it here?” she asked.

“That’s right,” Kersey said. “By the time I grabbed Frederic and got up here, they were turning around to leave. I waved at them but they just drove on by me.”

“Did you get a look at either one of them?”

“Not really. The guy driving was white. He had red hair, I remember that.”

“What about the other guy?”

He shook his head.

“I was just looking at the driver, I guess.”

“Tell me about their van. What color was it?”

“It was white. Just a van.”

“Were there markings on it — like Bureau of Street Lighting or a city seal or anything?”

“Uh … yeah, I saw it. BSL — right on the door when they blew by me.”

“You mean you saw the letters —
BSL
?”

“Yeah, right on the door.”

“And could you tell what kind of van it was?”

“Not really. One of their work vans.”

“For example, did it have a flat front like the old-style vans with the engines between the front seats? Or more like a sloping front — like the newer vans have?”

“Yes, sloping front. It looked new.”

“What about windows? Did it have windows running down the sides, or was it what they call a panel van?”

“Panel. You really know your vans, Detective.”

“It’s come up before.”

She didn’t bother mentioning that she had owned several
vans in her life when she was carrying multiple surfboards around.

Ballard put her light on the plate at the bottom of the post again. She could see that two screws held it in place. She had a basic set of tools in her kit bag in the car.

“Mr. Kersey, where do you live?” she asked.

“Just down at the end,” he said. “At the intersection.”

He gave a specific address and pointed four houses down to the residence at the next streetlight. Ballard realized it was one of the houses where no one had answered her knock earlier in the day.

“Were you out earlier today?” she asked. “I knocked on your door.”

“I was at the store, yes,” he said. “Otherwise, I was home. Why’d you knock? What’s this about?”

“There was a break-in on the street last night. I’m investigating. The light might have been put out by the perpetrators.”

“Oh, my. Whose home?”

Ballard pointed to the Carpenter house.

“That one.”

“And things had just started to settle down there, too.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well, there was a guy living there. He was loud, always yelling, throwing stuff around. A hothead is what I’d call him. Then I think she kicked him out, and things got quiet again. Peaceful.”

Ballard nodded. She was realizing how lucky she was that Kersey had taken his dog out while she was on the street. His information was important.

“You didn’t happen to notice anything unusual in the neighborhood last night, did you?” she asked.

“Last night … I don’t think so,” Kersey said.

“Nothing at all after eight or so?”

“Nothing comes to mind. Sorry, Detective.”

“It’s all right, Mr. Kersey. I’m going to go get some tools out of my car, which I parked at the cul-de-sac. I need to open that plate up. I’ll be right back.”

BOOK: The Dark Hours
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