By the third night the death count was rising so high and so quickly that many of the divisional homicide teams were pulled off the front lines of riot control and put into emergency rotations in South Central. Detective Harry Bosch and his partner, Jerry Edgar, were pulled from Hollywood Division and assigned to a roving B Watch team that also included two shotgunners from patrol for protection. They were dispatched to any place they were needed—wherever a body turned up. The four-man team moved in a black-and-white patrol car, jumping from crime scene to crime scene and never staying still for long. It wasn’t the proper way to carry out homicide work, not even close, but it was the best that could be done under the surreal circumstances of a city that had come apart at the seams.
South Central was a war zone. Fires burned everywhere. Looters moved in packs from storefront to storefront, all semblance of dignity and moral code gone in the smoke that rose over the city. The gangs of South L.A. stepped up to control the darkness, even calling for a truce to their internecine battles to create a united front against the police.
More than fifty people had died already. Store owners had shot looters, National Guardsmen had shot looters, looters had shot looters, and then there were the others—killers who used the camouflage of chaos and civil unrest to settle long-held scores that had nothing to do with the frustrations of the moment and the emotions displayed in the streets.
Two days before, the racial, social, and economic fractures that ran under the city broke the surface with seismic intensity. The trial of four LAPD officers accused of excessively beating a black motorist at the end of a high-speed chase had resulted in the delivery of not-guilty verdicts. The reading of the jury’s decision in a suburban courtroom forty-five miles away had an almost immediate impact on South Los Angeles. Small crowds of angry people gathered on street corners to decry the injustice. And soon things turned violent. The ever-vigilant media went high and live from the air, broadcasting the images into every home in the city, and then to the world.
The department was caught flat-footed. The chief of police was out of Parker Center and making a political appearance when the verdict came in. Other members of the command staff were out of position as well. No one immediately took charge and, more important, no one went to the rescue. The whole department retreated and the images of unchecked violence spread like wildfire across every television screen in the city. Soon the city was out of control and in flames.
Two nights later, the acrid smell of burning rubber and smoldering dreams was still everywhere. Flames from a thousand fires reflected like the devil dancing in the dark sky.
Gunshots and shouts of anger echoed nonstop in the wake of the patrol car. But the four men in 6-King-16 did not stop for any of these. They stopped only for murder.
Christmas came once a month in the Open-Unsolved Unit. That was when the lieutenant made her way around the squad room like Santa Claus, parceling out the assignments like presents to the squad’s six detective teams. The cold hits were the lifeblood of the unit. The teams didn’t wait for callouts and fresh kills in Open-Unsolved. They waited for cold hits.
The Open-Unsolved Unit investigated unsolved murders going back fifty years in Los Angeles. There were twelve detectives, a secretary, a squad room supervisor, known as the whip, and the lieutenant. And there were ten thousand cases. The first five detective teams split up the fifty years, each pair taking ten randomly chosen years. Their task was to pull all the unsolved homicide cases from their assigned years out of archives, evaluate them and submit long-stored and forgotten evidence for reanalysis with contemporary technology. All DNA submissions were handled by the new regional lab out at Cal State. When DNA from an old case was matched to an individual whose genetic profile was carried in any of the nation’s DNA databases, it was called a cold hit. The lab put cold hit notices in the mail at the end of every month. They would arrive a day or two later at the Police Administration Building in downtown Los Angeles.
Usually by 8 a.m. that day, the lieutenant would open the door of her private office and enter the squad room. She carried the envelopes in her hand. Each hit sheet was mailed individually in a yellow business envelope. Generally, the envelopes were handed to the same detectives who had submitted the DNA evidence to the lab. But sometimes there were too many cold hits for one team to handle at once. Sometimes detectives were in court or on vacation or on leave. And sometimes the cold hits revealed circumstances that required the utmost finesse and experience. That was where the sixth team came in. Detectives Harry Bosch and David Chu were the sixth team. They were floaters. They handled overflow cases and special investigations.
On Monday morning, October 3, Lieutenant Gail Duvall stepped out of her office and into the squad room, carrying only three yellow envelopes. Harry Bosch almost sighed at the sight of such a paltry return on the squad’s DNA submissions. He knew that with so few envelopes he would not be getting a new case to work.
Bosch had been back in the unit for almost a year following a two-year reassignment to Homicide Special. But coming back for his second tour of duty in Open-Unsolved, he had quickly fallen into the rhythm of the squad. It wasn’t a fly squad. There was no dashing out the door to get to a crime scene. In fact, there were no crime scenes. There were only files and archive boxes. It was primarily an eight-to-four gig with an asterisk, that asterisk meaning that there was more travel than with other detective squads. People who got away with murder, or at least thought they had, tended not to stick around. They moved elsewhere and often the OU detectives had to travel to retrieve them.
Mrs. Pena looked across the seat at me and held her hands up in a beseeching manner. She spoke in a heavy accent, choosing English to make her final pitch directly to me.
“Please, you help me, Mr. Mickey?”
I looked at Rojas, who was turned around in the front seat even though I didn’t need him to translate. I then looked past Mrs. Pena, over her shoulder and through the car window, to the home she desperately wanted to hold on to. It was a bleached pink, two-bedroom house with a hardscrabble yard behind a wire fence. The concrete step to the front stoop had graffiti sprayed across it, indecipherable except for the number 13. It wasn’t the address. It was a pledge of allegiance.
My eyes finally came back to her. She was forty-four years old and attractive in a worn sort of way. She was the single mother of three teenage boys and had not paid her mortgage in nine months. Now the bank had foreclosed and was moving in to sell the house out from under her.
The auction would take place in three days. It didn’t matter that the house was worth little or that it sat in a gang-infested neighborhood in South L.A. Somebody would buy it, and Mrs. Pena would become a renter instead of an owner — that is, if the new owner didn’t evict her. For years she had relied on the protection of the Florencia 13. But times were different. No gang allegiance could help her now. She needed a lawyer. She needed me.
“Tell her I will try my best,” I said. “Tell her I am pretty certain I will be able to stop the auction and challenge the validity of the foreclosure. It will at least slow things down. It will give us time to work up a long-range plan. Maybe get her back on her feet.”
I nodded and waited while Rojas translated. I had been using Rojas as my driver and interpreter ever since I had bought the advertising package on the Spanish radio stations.
I felt the cell phone in my pocket vibrate. My upper thigh read this as a text message as opposed to an actual phone call, which had a longer vibration. Either way I ignored it. When Rojas completed the translation, I jumped in before Mrs. Pena could respond.
“Tell her that she has to understand that this isn’t a solution to her problems. I can delay things and we can negotiate with her bank. But I am not promising that she won’t lose the house. In fact, she’s already lost the house. I’m going to get it back but then she’ll still have to face the bank.”
Rojas translated, making hand gestures where I had not. The truth was that Mrs. Pena would have to leave eventually. It was just a question of how far she wanted me to take it. Personal bankruptcy would tack another year onto foreclosure defense. But she didn’t have to decide that now.
The last time I’d eaten at the Water Grill I sat across the table from a client who had coldly and calculatedly murdered his wife and her lover, shooting both of them in the face. He had engaged my services to not only defend him at trial but fully exonerate him and restore his good name in the public eye. This time I was sitting with someone with whom I needed to be even more careful. I was dining with Gabriel Williams, the district attorney of Los Angeles County. It was a crisp afternoon in midwinter. I sat with Williams and his trusted chief of staff — read political advisor — Joe Ridell. The meal had been set for 1:30 p.m., when most courthouse lawyers would be safely back in the CCB, and the DA would not be advertising his dalliance with a member of the dark side. Meaning me, Mickey Haller, defender of the damned. The Water Grill was a nice place for a downtown lunch. Good food and atmosphere, good separation between tables for private conversation, and a wine list hard to top in all of downtown. It was the kind of place where you kept your suit jacket on and the waiter put a black napkin across your lap so you needn’t be bothered with doing it yourself. The prosecution team ordered martinis at the county taxpayers’ expense and I stuck with the free water the restaurant was pouring. It took Williams two gulps of gin and one olive before he got to the reason we were hiding in plain sight. “Mickey, I have a proposition for you.” I nodded. Ridell had already said as much when he had called that morning to set up the lunch. I had agreed to the meet and then had gone to work on the phone myself, trying to gather any inside information I could on what the proposition would be. Not even my first ex-wife, who worked in the district attorney’s employ, knew what was up. “I’m all ears,” I said. “It’s not every day that the DA himself wants to give you a proposition. I know it can’t be in regard to any of my clients — they wouldn’t merit much attention from the guy at the top. And at the moment I’m only carrying a few cases anyway. Times are slow.” “Well, you’re right,” Williams said. “This is not about any of your clients. I have a case I would like you to take on.” I nodded again. I understood now. They all hate the defense attorney until they need the defense attorney. I didn’t know if Williams had any children but he would have known through due diligence that I didn’t do juvy work. So I was guessing it had to be his wife. Probably a shoplifting grab or a DUI he was trying to keep under wraps. “Who got popped?” I asked. Williams looked at Ridell and they shared a smile. “No, nothing like that,” Williams said. “My proposition is I would like to hire you, Mickey. I want you to come work at the DA’s office.”
The mantrap alert buzzed from overhead. "Screens," Carver said. The three young men at the workstations typed commands in unison, which hid their work from the visitors. The control room door opened and McGinnis stepped in with a man in a suit. Carver had never seen him before. "This is our control room and through the windows there, you see what we call the 'front forty,' " McGinnis said. "All of our colocation services are centered here. This is primarily where your firm's material would be held. We have forty towers in here holding close to a thousand dedicated servers. And, of course, there's room for more. We'll never run out of room." The man in the suit nodded thoughtfully. "I'm not worried about room. Our concern is security." "Yes, this is why we stepped in here. I wanted you to meet Wesley Carver. Wesley wears a number of hats around here. He is our chief technology officer as well as our top threat engineer and the designer of the data center. He can tell you all you need to know about colocation security." Another dog and pony show. Carver shook the suit's hand. He was introduced as David Wyeth of the St. Louis law firm Mercer and Gissal. It sounded like crisp white shirts and tweed. Carver noticed that Wyeth had a barbecue stain on his tie. Whenever they came into town McGinnis took them to eat at Rosie's Barbecue. Carver gave Wyeth the show by rote, covering everything and saying everything the silk-stocking lawyer wanted to hear. Wyeth was on a barbecue-and-due-diligence mission. He would go back to St. Louis and report on how impressed he had been. He would tell them that this was the way to go if the firm wanted to keep up with changing technologies and times. And McGinnis would get another contract. "Wesley?" McGinnis said. Carver came out of the reverie. The suit had asked a question. Carver had already forgotten his name. "Excuse me?" "Mr. Wyeth asked if the colocation center had ever been breached." McGinnis was smiling, already knowing the answer. "No, sir, we've never been breached. To be honest, there have been a few attempts. But they have failed, resulting in disastrous consequences for those who tried." The suit nodded somberly. "We represent the cream of the crop of St. Louis," he said. "The integrity of our fi les and our client list is paramount to all we do. That's why I came here personally." That and the strip club McGinnis took you to, Carver thought but didn't say. He smiled instead but there was no warmth in it. He was glad McGinnis had reminded him of the suit's name. "Don't worry, Mr. Wyeth," he said. "Your crops will be safe on this farm." Wyeth smiled back. "That's what I wanted to hear," he said.
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