Authors: Michael Connelly
“Wait, you — ”
Bosch stepped into a punch that hit Denning in the gut with a force that belied his years. Denning dropped the backpack to the floor with a hard thud and fell back on the couch, gasping for air.
Ballard headed for the door while Bosch delayed a moment to see if Denning would get up. But it became clear he would not be getting up for a while.
Bosch followed Ballard out of the room into the hallway. He caught up halfway to the elevators.
“That last part was unscripted,” she said.
“Yeah,” Bosch said. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t be,” she said. “I’m not sorry about that at all.”
Bosch drove because Ballard asked him to. As dark as her thoughts were she didn’t want any distractions from them. Bosch handed back her mini-recorder. He’d had it in the breast pocket of his suit jacket. Ballard tested the sound of the recording and it was good. They had Denning on tape. She then started a new recording and repeated the site and password numbers Denning had provided. She then leaned against the passenger door and thought about what she had seen on his computer. After a while, she took out her phone. She had dropped Pinto off at the Dog House that morning. She pulled up the kennel camera and saw him in the familiar spot under the bench. Alert and watching the others. She put the phone away and was better braced for her dark thoughts.
“So … ,” Bosch finally said. “What are you thinking?”
“That we have front-row seats on a pretty fucked-up world,” she said.
“The abyss. But you can’t let it get you down, partner. Being in the front row means you get to try to do something about it.”
“Even without a badge?”
“Even without a badge.”
They were on the 405 freeway going north and coming up on the 10 interchange. Bosch took his left hand off the wheel and rotated his wrist.
“What?” Ballard asked.
“Came in at a bad angle on that punch,” he said.
“Well,” Ballard said. “I hope you Houdinied him.”
She had read somewhere that Houdini had died from a punch to the gut.
Bosch put his hand back on the wheel.
“What are we going to do with this?” he asked.
“I’m still thinking the FBI is the best bet,” Ballard said. “They have the skills to deal with all the encryption and masking. Much better than the LAPD.”
“I didn’t really get any of that Dark Web stuff,” Bosch said. “Tell you the truth, I don’t even know how it works.”
Ballard smiled and looked over at him.
“You don’t have to know,” she said. “You’ve got me for that now.”
“Well, how about the shorthand, then?” he asked.
“In the Dark Web, nothing is indexed,” Ballard began. “There’s no Google or anything like that. You sort of have to know your destination, and then one thing can lead to another. That’s what happened with Denning. He found like-minded and totally warped people, and that brought him eventually to the Midnight Men.”
“The problem is that the Dark Web offers anonymity. He said he has a VPN. That’s a virtual private network that masks his computer ID when he’s prowling around on websites. Then he also uses Tor as a browser. It’s like the dot-com of the Dark Web and it encrypts his moves and bounces them all over the world to
further defy tracing them. So he’s anonymous in the Dark Web, can’t be traced. Supposedly.”
“The FBI is plugged in with the NSA and the whole federal alphabet soup of agencies. They’re cutting-edge when it comes to this. They’re doing things the public has no idea about. So I say we go to them, I give them the site where all that horrible stuff is and the password that’ll get them in. That’s all they need. They take it from there. They’ll be able to identify the three known victims on there. That last one we saw was my case, Cindy Carpenter. And I got the mojo on her ex as soon as I talked to him. He’s gotta go down for this. They’ll squeeze Denning and make him a witness, but he won’t walk. I’ll make sure of that. They let him walk, and I know the name of the
reporter that would love that story.”
“All of them have to go down,” he said.
“They will,” Ballard said. “The bureau will go silent but then the hammer will come down on all of them at once. A great reckoning of assholes. And if it doesn’t happen that way, then we make a call, and that’ll get some action going.”
Bosch nodded again.
“When should we go to the bureau?” he asked.
“How about right now?” Ballard said.
Bosch put on the blinker and started negotiating his way to the transition lanes to the eastbound 10. They were headed downtown.
Ballard was walking up Finley with Pinto when she saw the black SUV double-parked in front of her building. She had been on a pre-drive walk with the dog so he could take care of business before she headed out to surf Trancas Point. It would take over an hour to get out there. The surf report had a west swell and winds out of the north, perfect conditions for Trancas. She hadn’t been to the Point since before the pandemic and was looking forward to being on the ocean up there and riding a few waves. She would go alone, except for the dog. Garrett Single was on duty.
As she got closer she could hear the SUV idling and could tell by the license plate that it was a city car, not a vehicle from a limo service waiting on an airport run. A large man in a suit waited by the passenger-side door for the return of his passenger. She pulled out her earbuds and killed the music on her phone. Marvin Gaye was singing “What’s Going On.”
When she got to the security gate, she saw a man with gray hair and in a full police uniform, four stars on the collar. It was the chief of police. He heard the dog’s collar jingle and turned to see Ballard approach.
“Detective Ballard?” he asked.
“Well, I’m Ballard,” she said. “It’s not ‘Detective’ anymore.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Have we met previously?”
“No, not in person. But I know who you are, Chief.”
“Is there a place we can talk privately?”
“I don’t think anyone can hear us here.”
The point was clear. She wasn’t inviting him in.
“Then here is good,” he said.
“What can I do for you?” Ballard said.
“Well, I’ve been apprised of your work on some of the cases that have made recent headlines. Your uncredited work, I should say. Both before and after you turned in your badge.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a badge. Ballard recognized the number. It was the one she had worn until two weeks earlier.
“I want you to take it back,” he said.
“You want me to come back?” she asked.
“I do. The department needs to change. To do that, it has to change from within. How can we accomplish that if the good people who can make change choose to leave?”
“I don’t think the department wants someone like me. And I don’t think the department wants to change.”
“It doesn’t matter what the department wants, Detective Ballard. If an organization doesn’t change, it dies. And that’s why I want you back. I need you to help bring the change.”
“What would my job be?”
“Whatever you want it to be.”
Ballard nodded. She thought about Bosch and how he had told her that change had to come from within. A million people protesting in the street wasn’t enough. And she thought about the partnership she and Bosch had planned.
“Can I think about it, Chief?” she said.
“Sure, think about it,” he said. “Just don’t take too long. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
He held up the badge.
“I’ll keep this until I hear from you,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” Ballard said.
The chief headed back to the car, and the driver held the door for him. The black SUV took off down Finley, and Ballard watched it go.
Then she went surfing.
Many thanks to Team Ballard and Bosch, an all-star lineup of editors, readers, advisers, and investigators who helped the author with this novel in immeasurable ways. They include Asya Muchnick, Bill Massey, Emad Akhtar, Pamela Marshall, Betsy Uhrig, Jane Davis, Heather Rizzo, Dennis Wojciechowski, Henrik Bastin, John Houghton, Terrill Lee Lankford, and Linda Connelly. The detectives roundtable includes Mitzi Roberts, the inspiration for Ballard, as well as Rick Jackson, David Lambkin, and Tim Marcia, inspirations all. Many thanks to all who lent a hand to the author.
A former police reporter for the
Los Angeles Times
, Michael Connelly is the internationally bestselling author of thirty-five novels. He has created many genre-defining characters, including detectives Harry Bosch and Renée Ballard, crime reporter Jack McEvoy and lawyer Mickey Haller, the protagonist in Connelly’s 2020 bestseller,
The Law of Innocence
Michael Connelly’s books have sold more than eighty million copies worldwide. They have been translated into forty languages and have won awards all over the world, including the Edgar and Anthony Awards and the CWA Diamond Dagger, the highest honour in British crime writing.
Connelly is the executive producer of the successful TV series,
, which stars Titus Welliver and has aired its final (seventh) season in 2021. Meanwhile a spin-off series is in production, also starring Welliver as Harry Bosch. The Lincoln Lawyer titles are soon to become a major Netflix series starring Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Mickey Haller.
Michael Connelly’s true crime podcast
is available on most podcast apps or online at
, and his podcast
The Wonderland Murders
is available through Audible.