The vision has haunted him for four years: a young woman lying crumpled in death, her hand outstretched in silent supplication. Harry Bosch was taken off the Angella Benton murder case when the production assistant's death was linked with the violent theft of two million dollars from a movie set. Both files were never closed. Now retired from the L.A.P.D., Bosch is determined to find justice for Angella. Without a badge to open doors and strike fear into the guilty, he's on his own. And even in the face of an opponent more powerful and ruthless than any he's ever encountered, Bosch is not backing down.
Release date: April 1, 2003
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Print pages: 368
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But there was none of that at the mansion on Bel-Air Crest Road. The driveway gate had been left open. And after I parked in the front turnaround circle and knocked on the door, it was the box-office champion himself who opened it and beckoned me into a home whose dimensions could have been copied directly from the international terminal at LAX.
Taylor was a large man. Over six feet and 250 pounds. He carried it well, though, with a full head of curly brown hair and contrasting blue eyes. The hair on his chin added the highbrow look of an artist to this image, though art had very little to do with the field in which he toiled.
He was wearing a soft blue running suit that probably cost more than everything I was wearing. A white towel was wrapped tightly around his neck and stuffed into the collar. His cheeks were pink, his breathing heavy and labored. I had caught him in the middle of something and he seemed a little put out by it.
I had come to the door in my best suit, the ash gray single-breasted I had paid twelve hundred dollars for three years before. I hadn’t worn it in over nine months and that morning I had needed to dust off the shoulders after taking it out of the closet. I was clean-shaven and I had purpose, the first I had felt since I put the suit on that hanger so many months before.
“Come in,” Taylor said. “Everybody’s off today and I was just working out. Lucky the gym’s just down the hall or I probably wouldn’t have even heard you. It’s a big place.”
“Yes, that was lucky.”
He moved back into the house. He didn’t shake my hand and I remembered that from the time I first met him four years before. He led the way, leaving it to me to close the front door.
“Do you mind if I finish up on the bike while we talk?”
“No, that’s fine.”
We walked down a marble hallway, Taylor staying three steps ahead of me as if I were part of his entourage. He was probably most comfortable that way and that was all right with me. It gave me time to look around.
The bank of windows on the left gave a view of the opulent grounds—a soccer-field-sized rectangle of rolling green that led to what I assumed was a guest house or a pool house or both. There was a golf cart parked outside of the distant structure and I could see tracks back and forth across the manicured green leading to the main house. I had seen a lot in L.A., from the poorest ghettos to mountaintop mansions. But it was the first time I had seen a homestead inside the city limits so large that a golf cart was necessary to get from one side to the other.
Along the wall on the right were framed one sheets from the many films Alexander Taylor had produced. I had seen a few of them when they made it to television and seen commercials for the rest. For the most part they were the kind of action films that neatly fit into the confines of a thirty-second commercial, the kind that leave you no pressing need afterward to actually see the movie. None would ever be considered art by any meaning of the word. But in Hollywood they were far more important than art. They were profitable. And that was the bottom line of all bottom lines.
Taylor made a sweeping right and I followed him into the gym. The room brought new meaning to the idea of personal fitness. All manner of weight machines were lined against the mirrored walls. At center was what appeared to be a full-size boxing ring. Taylor smoothly mounted a stationary bike, pushed a few buttons on the digital display in front of him and started pedaling.
Mounted side by side and high on the opposite wall were three large flat-screen televisions tuned to competing twenty-four-hour news channels and the Bloomberg business report. The sound on the Bloomberg screen was up. Taylor lifted a remote control and muted it. Again, it was a courtesy I wasn’t expecting. When I had spoken to his secretary to make the appointment, she had made it sound like I would be lucky to get a few questions in while the great man worked his cell phone.
“No partner?” Taylor asked. “I thought you guys worked in pairs.”
“I like to work alone.”
I left it at that for the moment. I stood silently as Taylor got up to a rhythm on the cycle. He was in his late forties but he looked much younger. Maybe surrounding himself with the equipment and machinery of health and youthfulness did the trick. Then again maybe it was face peels and Botox injections, too.
“I can give you three miles,” he said, as he pulled the towel from around his neck and draped it over the handlebars. “About twenty minutes.”
“That’ll be fine.”
I reached for the notebook in my inside coat pocket. It was a spiral notebook and the wire coil caught on the jacket’s lining as I pulled. I felt like a jackass trying to get it loose and finally just jerked it free. I heard the lining tear but smiled away the embarrassment. Taylor cut me a break by looking away and up at one of the silent television screens.
I think it’s the little things I miss most about my former life. For more than twenty years I carried a small bound notebook in my coat pocket. Spiral notebooks weren’t allowed—a smart defense attorney could claim pages of exculpatory notes had been torn out. The bound notebooks took care of that problem and were easier on the jacket lining at the same time.
“I was glad to hear from you,” Taylor said. “It has always bothered me about Angie. To this day. She was a good kid, you know? And all this time, I thought you guys had just given up on it, that she didn’t matter.”
I nodded. I had been careful with my words when I spoke to the secretary on the phone. While I had not lied to her I had been guilty of leading her and letting her assume things. It was a necessity. If I had told her I was an ex-cop working freelance on an old case, then I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near the box-office champ for the interview.
“Uh, before we start, I think there might have been a misunderstanding. I don’t know what your secretary told you, but I’m not a cop. Not anymore.”
Taylor coasted for a moment on the pedals but then quickly worked back into his rhythm. His face was red and he was sweating freely. He reached to a cup holder on the side of the digital control board and took out a pair of half glasses and a slim card that had his production company’s logo at the top—a square with a mazelike design of curls inside it—and several handwritten notations below it. He put on the glasses and squinted anyway as he read the card.
“That’s not what I have here,” he said. “I’ve got LAPD Detective Harry Bosch at ten. Audrey wrote this. She’s been with me for eighteen years—since I was making straight-to-video dreck in the Valley. She is very good at what she does. And usually very accurate.”
“Well, that was me for a long time. But not since last year. I retired. I might not have been very clear about that on the phone. I wouldn’t blame Audrey if I were you.”
He glanced down at me, tilting his head forward to see over the glasses.
“So then what can I do for you, Detective—or I guess I should say Mr.—Bosch? I’ve got two and a half miles and then we’re finished here.”
There was a bench-press machine to Taylor’s right. I moved over and sat down. I took the pen out of my shirt pocket—no snags this time—and got ready to write.
“I don’t know if you remember me but we have spoken, Mr. Taylor. Four years ago when the body of Angella Benton was found in the vestibule of her apartment building, the case was assigned to me. You and I spoke in your office over at Eidolon. On the Archway lot. One of my partners, Kiz Rider, was with me.”
“I remember. The black woman—she had known Angie, she said. From the gym, I think it was. I remember that at the time you two instilled a lot of confidence in me. But then you disappeared. I never heard from—”
“We were taken off the case. We were from Hollywood Division. After the robbery and shooting a few days later, the case was taken away. Robbery-Homicide Division took it.”
A low chime sounded from the stationary cycle and I thought maybe it meant Taylor had covered his first mile.
“I remember those guys,” Taylor said in a derisive voice. “Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber. They inspired nothing in me. I remember one was more interested in securing a position as technical advisor to my films than he was in the real case, Angie. Whatever happened to them?”
“One’s dead and one’s retired.”
Dorsey and Cross. I had known them both. Taylor’s description aside, both had been capable investigators. You didn’t get to RHD by coasting. What I didn’t tell Taylor was that Jack Dorsey and Lawton Cross became known in Detective Services as the partners who had the ultimate bad luck. While working an investigation they drew several months after the Angella Benton case, they stopped into a bar in Hollywood to grab lunch and a booster shot. They were sitting in a booth with their ham sandwiches and Bushmills when the place was hit by an armed robber. It was believed that Dorsey, who was sitting facing the door, made a move from the booth but was too slow. The gunman cut him down before he got the safety off his gun and he was dead before he hit the floor. A round fired at Cross creased his skull and a second hit him in the neck and lodged in his spine. The bartender was executed last at point-blank range.
“And then what happened to the case?” Taylor asked rhetorically, not an ounce of sympathy in his voice for the fallen cops. “Not a damn thing happened. I guarantee it’s been gathering dust like that cheap suit you pulled out of the closet before coming to see me.”
I took the insult because I had to. I just nodded as if I agreed with him. I couldn’t tell if his anger was for the never-avenged murder of Angella Benton or for what happened after, the robbery and the next murder and the shutting down of his film.
“It was worked by those guys full-time for six months,” I said. “After that there were other cases. The cases keep coming, Mr. Taylor. It’s not like in your movies. I wish it was.”
“Yes, there are always other cases,” Taylor said. “That’s always the easy out, isn’t it? Blame it on the workload. Meantime, the kid is still dead, the money’s still gone and that’s too bad. Next case. Step right up.”
I waited to make sure he was finished. He wasn’t.
“But now it’s four years later and you show up. What’s your story, Bosch? You con her family into hiring you? Is that it?”
“No. All of her family was in Ohio. I haven’t contacted them.”
“Then what is it?”
“It’s unsolved, Mr. Taylor. And I still care about it. I don’t think it is being worked with any kind of… dedication.”
“And that’s it?”
I nodded. Then Taylor nodded to himself.
“Fifty grand,” he said.
“I’ll pay you fifty grand—if you solve the thing. There’s no movie if you don’t solve it.”
“Mr. Taylor, you somehow have the wrong impression. I don’t want your money and this is no movie. All I want right now is your help.”
“Listen to me. I know a good story when I hear it. Detective haunted by the one that got away. It’s a universal theme, tried and true. Fifty up front, we can talk about the back end.”
I gathered the notebook and pen from the bench and stood up. This wasn’t going anywhere, or at least not in the direction I wanted.
“Thanks for your time, Mr. Taylor. If I can’t find my way out I’ll send up a flare.”
As I took my first step toward the door a second chime came from the exercise bike. Taylor spoke to my back.
“Home stretch, Bosch. Come back and ask me your questions. And I’ll keep my fifty grand if you don’t want it.”
I turned back to him but kept standing. I opened the notebook again.
“Let’s start with the robbery,” I said. “Who from your company knew about the two million dollars? I’m talking about who knew the specifics—when it was coming in for the shoot and how it was going to be delivered. Anything and anybody you can remember. I’m starting this from scratch.”
ANGELLA Benton died on her twenty-fourth birthday. Her body was found crumpled on the Spanish tile in the vestibule of the apartment building where she lived on Fountain near La Brea. Her key was in her mailbox. Inside the mailbox were two birthday cards mailed separately from Columbus by her mother and father. It turned out they were not divorced. They each just wanted to write their own birthday wishes to their only daughter.
Benton had been strangled. Before or after death, but most likely after, her blouse had been torn open and her bra jerked up to expose her breasts. Her killer then apparently masturbated over the corpse, producing a small amount of ejaculate that was later collected by forensic technicians for DNA typing. Her purse was taken and never recovered.
Time of death was established as between 11 P.M. and midnight. Her body was found by another resident in the apartment building when he left his home at 12:30 A.M. to take his dog for a walk.
That was where I came in. At the time I was a detective third grade assigned to the Hollywood Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. I had two partners. We worked in threes instead of pairs back then as part of an experimental configuration designed to close cases quickly. Kizmin Rider and Jerry Edgar and I were alerted by pager and assigned the case at 1 A.M. We met at Hollywood Division, picked up two Crown Vics and then drove to the crime scene. We saw Angella Benton’s body for the first time approximately two to three hours after she had been killed.
She lay on her side on brown tile that was the color of dried blood. Her eyes were open and bugged, distorting what I could tell had been a pretty face. The corneas were hemorrhaged. I noticed that her exposed chest was almost flat. It looked almost boyish and I thought maybe this had been a private embarrassment to her in a city where physical attributes seemed often to outweigh those on the inside. It made the tearing open of her blouse and lifting of her bra all the more of an attack, as if it were not enough to take her life, the killer also had to expose her most private vulnerability.
But it was her hands that I would remember the most. Somehow when her lifeless body was dropped to the tile, her hands fell together. Off to the left side of her body, they were directed upward from her head, as if she were reaching out to someone, almost beseechingly, begging for something. They looked like hands from a Renaissance painting, like the hands of the damned reaching heavenward for forgiveness. In my life I have worked almost a thousand homicides and no positioning of a fallen body ever gave me such pause.
Perhaps I saw too much in the vagaries of how she had fallen. But every case is a battle in a war that never ends. Believe me, you need something to carry with you every time you go into the fight. Something to hold on to, an edge that drives you or pulls you. And it was her hands that did it for me. I could not forget her hands. I believed they were reaching to me. I still do.
We got an immediate jump on the investigation because Kizmin Rider recognized the victim. They had been acquaintances. Rider knew her by first name from the gym on El Centro where they both worked out. Because of the irregular hours that came with her job on the homicide table Rider could not keep a regular workout schedule. She exercised at different times on different days, depending on her time and the case she was working. Often she had encountered Benton in the gym and they had struck up a conversational relationship while they worked side by side StairMasters.
Rider knew Benton was trying to establish a career in the film business on the production side. She worked as a production assistant for Eidolon Productions, the company headed by Alexander Taylor. Production schedules used all twenty-four hours on the clock, depending on the availability of locations and personnel. It meant that Benton had a gym schedule similar to Rider’s. It also meant that Benton had little time for relationships. She told Rider that she’d had only two dates in the past year and that there was no man in her life.
It was only a surface friendship and Rider had never seen Benton outside of the gym. They were both young black women trying to keep their bodies from betraying them as they went about busy professional lives and attempted to scale steep ladders in different worlds.
Nevertheless, the fact Kiz knew her gave us a good jump. We knew right away who we were dealing with—a responsible and confident young woman who cared about both her health and her career. It eliminated a variety of lifestyle angles we might have mistakenly pursued. The negative from the break was that it was the first time Rider had ever come across someone she knew as the victim of a homicide she’d been assigned to investigate. I noticed right away at the scene that it put a pause in her step. She usually was quite vocal when breaking down a crime scene and developing an investigative theory. At this scene she was silent until spoken to.
There were no witnesses to the murder. The vestibule was hidden from street view and offered the killer a perfect blind. He would have been able to move into the small space and attack without fear of being seen from outside. Still, there had been a risk to the crime. At any moment another resident of the building could have come home or left and come upon Benton and her killer. If the dog walker had taken his pet out an hour earlier he possibly could have ventured into the crime in progress. He could have saved her, or possibly have become a victim himself.
Anomalies. So much of the work entailed study of the anomalies. The crime had the appearance of an attack of opportunity. The killer had followed Benton and waited for the moment she was in the blind. Yet there were aspects of the scene—its privacy, for example—that suggested that he already knew about the vestibule and may have been waiting there, like a hunter watching a bait trap.
Anomalies. Angella Benton was no more than five feet five but she was a strong young woman. Rider had witnessed her workout regimen and knew first-hand of her strength and stamina. Yet there was no sign of a struggle. Fingernail scrapings produced no skin or blood belonging to anyone else. Had she known her killer? Why hadn’t she fought? The masturbation and the tearing open of the blouse suggested a crime of psychosexual motivation, a crime perpetrated alone. Yet the seeming lack of any fight for life suggested Benton had been completely and quickly overpowered. Had there been more than one killer?
In the first twenty-four hours our purpose had been to collect the evidence, make notifications and conduct first interviews of those immediately connected to the crime scene. It was in the second twenty-four that the sifting began and we began to work the anomalies, trying to crack them open like walnuts. And by the end of that second day we had concluded that it was a staged crime scene. That is, a scene designed by the perpetrator to convey false ideas about the crime. We concluded we had a killer who thought he was smarter than us, who was sending us down the psychosexual-predator road when the reality of the crime was something altogether different.
The thing that tilted us in this direction was the semen found on the body. In studying the crime scene photographs I noticed that drops of semen stretched across the victim’s body in a line suggesting a trajectory. However, the individual drops were round. It was common investigative knowledge in regard to blood spatter evidence that round drops are formed when blood drops directly down to a surface. Elliptical-shaped drops occur when blood is spattered in a trajectory or at an angle to the surface. We consulted the department’s blood spatter expert to see if the norms of blood evidence extended to other bodily fluids. We were told it did, and that for us cracked open an anomaly. We now theorized that the possibility was high that the killer or killers had planted the semen on the body. It had possibly been taken to the crime scene and then dripped onto the body as part of an intended misdirection.
We refocused the investigation. No longer did we view it as a case in which the victim wandered into the kill zone of a predator. Angella Benton was the kill zone. It had been something about her life and circumstances that had drawn the killer to her.
We attacked her life and work, looking for that hidden thing that had set the plan to kill her into motion. Someone had wanted her dead and thought they were clever enough to disguise it as the work of a hit-and-run psycho. While publicly we pumped the sex-slayer angle into the media machine, privately we began looking elsewhere.
On the third day of the investigation Edgar took the autopsy and the mounting paperwork duty while Rider and I took the field. We spent twelve hours in the offices of Eidolon Productions located at Archway Pictures on Melrose. Alexander Taylor had his moviemaking machine taking up nearly a third of the office space on the Archway lot. There were more than fifty employees. By virtue of her job as a production assistant, Angella Benton had interaction with them all. A PA stands at the bottom of the Hollywood totem pole. Benton had been a gofer, a runner. She had no office. She had a desk in the windowless mail room. But no matter, because she was always on the move, running between offices at Archway and back and forth from productions in the field. At that moment Eidolon had two movies and a television show shooting at separate locations in and around Los Angeles. Each one of those productions was a small city unto itself, a tent city that packed up and moved from location to location almost every night. A city with another hundred or more people who could have interacted with Angella Benton and needed to be interviewed.
The task we had was daunting. We asked for help—additional bodies to help with the interviews. The lieutenant could spare none. It took the whole day for Rider and me to cover the interviews at the company headquarters at Archway. And that was the one and only time I spoke to Alexander Taylor. Rider and I got a half hour with him and the conversation was perfunctory. He knew Benton, of course, but not well. While she was at the bottom of the totem pole, he was at the very top. Their interactions were infrequent and short. She had been with the company less than six months and he had not been the one who had hired her.
We got no hits during that first day of interviews. That is, no interview we conducted resulted in a new direction or focus for the investigation. We hit a wall. No one we talked to had an inkling of why someone would want to kill Angella Benton.
The following day we split up so each detective could visit a production location to conduct interviews. Edgar took the television production out in Valencia. It was a family-oriented comedy about a couple with an only child who connives to keep her parents from having more children. Rider took the movie production nearest her home in Santa Monica. It was a story about a man who takes credit for an anonymous valentine sent to a beautiful coworker and how their subsequent romance is built on a lie that grows inside him like a cancer. I had the second movie production, which was being shot in Hollywood. It was a high-action caper about a burglar who steals a suitcase with two million dollars in it, not knowing that the money belongs to the mob.
As a detective three I was the team leader. As such, I made the decision not to inform Taylor or any other administrators of his company that members of my team would be visiting the production locations. I didn’t want advance notice to precede us. We simply split up the locations and the next morning we each arrived unannounced, using the power of the badge to force our way in.
What happened the next morning shortly after I arrived at the set is well documented. I sometimes review the moves of the investigation and wish I had gotten to the set one day sooner. I think that I would have heard somebody mention the money and that I would have been able to put it all together. But the truth is we handled the investigation appropriately. We made the right moves at the right time. I have no regrets about that.
But after that fourth morning the investigation was no longer mine. The Robbery-Homicide Division came in and bigfooted the case. Jack Dorsey and Lawton Cross ran with it. It had everything RHD likes in a case: movies, money and murder. But they got nowhere with it, moved on to other cases and then walked into Nat’s for a ham sandwich and a jolt. The case more or less died with Dorsey. Cross lived but never recovered. He came out of a six-week coma with no memory of the shooting and no feeling below the neck. A machine did his breathing for him and a lot of people in the department figured his l. . .
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