FBI agent Rachel Walling finally gets the call she's dreaded for years, the one that tells her the Poet has surfaced. She has never forgotten the serial killer who wove lines of poetry in his hideous crimes—and apparently he has not forgotten her.
Former LAPD detective Harry Bosch gets a call, too—from the widow of an old friend. Her husband's death seems natural, but his ties to the hunt for the Poet make Bosch dig deep. Arriving at a derelict spot in the California desert where the feds are unearthing bodies, Bosch joins forces with Rachel. Now the two are at odds with the FBI...and squarely in the path of the Poet, who will lead them on a wicked ride out of the heat, through the narrows of evil, and into a darkness all his own...
Release date: May 3, 2004
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Print pages: 416
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Listen to a sample
SHE WAS IN DARKNESS, floating on a black sea, a starless sky above. She could hear nothing and see nothing. It was a perfect black moment but then Rachel Walling opened her eyes from the dream.
She stared up at the ceiling. She listened to the wind outside and heard the branches of the azaleas scratching against the window. She wondered if it was the scratching on glass or some other noise from within the house that had awakened her. Then her cell phone rang. She wasn’t startled. She calmly reached to the bed table. She brought the phone to her ear and was fully alert when she answered, her voice showing no indication of sleep.
“Agent Walling,” she said.
“Rachel? It’s Cherie Dei.”
Rachel knew right away that this would not be a Rez call. Cherie Dei meant Quantico. It had been four years since the last time. Rachel had been waiting.
“Where are you, Rachel?”
“I’m at home. Where do you think I’d be?”
“I know you cover a lot of territory now. I thought maybe you—”
“I’m in Rapid City, Cherie. What is it?”
She answered after a long moment of silence.
“He’s resurfaced. He’s back.”
Rachel felt an invisible fist punch into her chest and then hold there. Her mind conjured memories and images. Bad ones. She closed her eyes. Cherie Dei didn’t have to use a name. Rachel knew it was Backus. The Poet had resurfaced. Just as they knew he would. Like a virulent infection that moves through the body, hidden from the outside for years, then breaking the skin as a reminder of its ugliness.
“Three days ago we got something in Quantico. A package in the mail. It contained—”
“Three days? You sat on it for three—”
“We didn’t sit on anything. We took our time with it. It was addressed to you. At Behavioral Sciences. The mail room brought it down to us and we had it X-rayed and then we opened it. Carefully.”
“What was in it?”
“A GPS reader.”
A global positioning system reader. Longitude and latitude coordinates. Rachel had encountered one on a case the previous year. An abduction out in the Badlands where the missing camper had marked her trail with a handheld GPS. They found it in her pack and traced her steps back to a camp where she had encountered a man and he had followed her. They got there too late to save her but they would have never gotten there at all if it hadn’t been for the GPS.
“What was on it?”
Rachel sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She brought her free hand to her stomach and closed it like a dead flower. She waited and soon Cherie Dei continued. Rachel remembered her as once being so green, just an observer and learner on the go team, assigned to her under the bureau’s mentoring program. Ten years later and the cases, all the cases, had etched deep grooves into her voice. Cherie Dei wasn’t green anymore and she needed no mentor.
“It had one waypoint in its record. The Mojave. Just inside the California border at Nevada. We flew out yesterday and we went to the marker. We’ve been using thermal imaging and gas probes. Late yesterday we found the first body, Rachel.”
“Who is it?”
“We don’t know yet. It’s old. It had been there a long time. We’re just starting with it. The excavation work is slow.”
“You said the first body. How many more are there?”
“As of when I left the scene last we were up to four. We think there’s more.”
“Cause of death?”
Rachel was silent as she thought about this. The first questions that ran through her filters were why there and why now.
“Rachel, I’m not calling just to tell you. The point is the Poet is back in play and we want you out here.”
Rachel nodded. It was a given that she would go there.
“Why do you think he was the one who sent the package?”
“We don’t think it. We know it. We got a match a little while ago on a fingerprint from the GPS. He replaced the batteries on it and we got a thumb off of one of them. Robert Backus. It’s him. He’s back.”
Rachel slowly opened her fist and studied her hand. It was as still as a statue’s. The dread she had felt just a moment before was changing. She could admit it to herself but no one else. She could feel the juice begin moving in her blood again, turning it a darker red. Almost black. She had been waiting for this call. She slept every night with the cell phone near her ear. Yes, it was part of the job. The call outs. But this was the only call she had truly been waiting for.
“You can name the waypoints,” Dei said in the silence. “On the GPS. Up to twelve characters and spaces. He named this point ‘Hello Rachel.’ An exact fit. I guess he still has something for you. It’s like he’s calling you out, has some sort of plan.”
Rachel’s memory dredged up an image of a man falling backward through glass and into darkness. Disappearing into the dark void below.
“I’m on my way,” she said.
“We’re running it out of the Vegas field office. It will be easier to keep a blanket on it from there. Just be careful, Rachel. We don’t know what he has in mind with this, you know? Watch your back.”
“I will. I always do.”
“Call me with the details and I’ll pick you up.”
“I will,” she repeated.
Then she pushed the button that disconnected the call. She reached to the bed table and turned on the light. For a moment she remembered the dream, the stillness of the black water and the sky above, like black mirrors facing each other. And her in the middle, just floating.
GRACIELA MCCALEB was waiting by her car outside my house in Los Angeles when I got there. She had been on time for our appointment but I had not. I quickly parked in the carport and jumped out to greet her. She didn’t seem upset with me. She seemed to take it in stride.
“Graciela, I am so sorry I’m late. I got backed up on the ten with all the morning traffic.”
“It’s okay. I was kind of enjoying it. It’s so quiet up here.”
I used my key to unlock the door. When I pushed it open it wedged against some of the mail that was on the floor inside. I had to bend down and reach around the door to pull the envelopes free and get the door open.
Standing and turning back to Graciela I extended my hand into the house. She passed by me and entered. I didn’t smile under the circumstances. The last time I had seen her was at the funeral. She looked only marginally better this time, the grief still holding in her eyes and at the corners of her mouth.
As she moved past me in the tight entry hall I smelled a sweet orange fragrance. I remembered that from the funeral, from when I had clasped her hands with both of mine, said how sorry I was for her loss and offered my help if she needed it in any way. She was wearing black then. This day she was wearing a flowery summer dress that went better with the fragrance. I pointed her to the living room and told her to have a seat on the couch. I asked if she wanted something to drink, even though I knew I had nothing in the house to respond with but probably a couple bottles of beer in the box and water from the tap.
“I’m fine, Mr. Bosch. No thank you.”
“Please, call me Harry. Nobody calls me Mr. Bosch.”
Now I tried a smile but it didn’t work on her. And I didn’t know why I expected it would. She’d been through a lot in her life. I’d seen the movie. And now this latest tragedy. I sat down in the chair across from the couch and waited. She cleared her throat before speaking.
“I guess you must be wondering why I needed to talk to you. I was not very forthcoming on the phone.”
“That’s all right,” I said. “But it did make me curious. Is something wrong? What can I do for you?”
She nodded and looked down at her hands, which held a small black-beaded purse on her lap. It looked like something she might have bought for the funeral.
“Something is very wrong and I don’t know who to turn to. I know enough about things from Terry—I mean how they work—to know I can’t go to the police. Not yet. Besides, they’ll be coming to me. Soon, I suppose. But until then, I need someone I can trust, who will help me. I can pay you.”
Leaning forward I put my elbows on my knees and my hands together. I had only met her that one other time—at the funeral. Her husband and I had once been close but not in the last few years and now it was too late. I didn’t know where the trust she spoke of came from.
“What did Terry tell you about me that would make you want to trust me? To choose me. You and I don’t really even know each other, Graciela.”
She nodded like that was a fair question and assessment.
“At one time in our marriage Terry told me everything about everything. He told me about the last case you two worked together. He told me what happened and how you saved each other’s life. On the boat. So that makes me think I can trust you.”
“He one time told me something about you that I always remembered,” she added. “He told me there were things about you he didn’t like and that he didn’t agree with. I think he meant the way you do things. But he said at the end of the day, after all the cops and agents he had known and worked with, if he had to pick somebody to work a murder case with, that it would be you. Hands down. He said he would pick you because you wouldn’t give up.”
I felt a tightness around my eyes. It was almost like I could hear Terry McCaleb saying it. I asked a question, already knowing the answer.
“What is it you want me to do for you?”
“I want you to investigate his death.”
EVEN THOUGH I KNEW it was going to be what she would ask me, Graciela McCaleb’s request gave me pause. Terry McCaleb had died on his boat a month earlier. I had read about it in the Las Vegas Sun. It had made the papers because of the movie. FBI agent gets heart transplant and then tracks down his donor’s killer. It was a story that had Hollywood written all over it and Clint Eastwood played the part, even though he had a couple decades on Terry. The film was a modest success at best, but it still gave Terry the kind of notoriety that guaranteed an obituary notice in papers across the country. I had just gotten back to my apartment near the strip one morning and picked up the Sun. Terry’s death was a short story in the back of the A section.
A deep tremor rolled through me when I read it. I was surprised but not that surprised. Terry had always seemed to be a man on borrowed time. But there was nothing suspicious in what I had read or what I had then heard when I went out to Catalina for the funeral service. It had been his heart—his new heart—that had failed. It had given him six good years, better than the national average for a heart transplant patient, but then it had succumbed to the same factors that destroyed the original.
“I don’t understand,” I said to Graciela. “He was on the boat, a charter, and he collapsed. They said… his heart.”
“Yes, it was his heart,” she said. “But something new has come up. I want you to look into it. I know you’re retired from the police, but Terry and I watched on the news last year what happened here.”
Her eyes moved around the room and she gestured with her hands. She was talking about what had happened in my house a year earlier when my first post-retirement investigation had ended so badly and with so much blood.
“I know you still look into things,” she said. “You’re like Terry was. He couldn’t leave it behind. Some of you are like that. When we saw on the news what happened here, that’s when Terry said he would want you if he had to pick someone. I think what he was telling me was that if anything ever happened to him, I should go to you.”
I nodded and looked at the floor.
“Tell me what has come up and I will tell you what I can do.”
“You have a bond with him, you know?”
I nodded again.
She cleared her throat. She moved to the edge of the couch and began to tell it.
“I’m a nurse. I don’t know if you saw the movie but they made me a waitress in the movie. That’s not right. I’m a nurse. I know about medicine. I know about hospitals, all of it.”
I nodded and didn’t say anything to stop her.
“The coroner’s office conducted an autopsy on Terry. There were no signs of anything unusual but they decided to go ahead with the autopsy at the request of Dr. Hansen—Terry’s cardio doctor—because he wanted to see if they could find out what went wrong.”
“Okay,” I said. “What did they find?”
“Nothing. I mean, nothing criminal. The heart simply stopped beating… and he died. It happens. The autopsy showed that the muscles of the heart’s walls were thinning, getting narrow. Cardiomyopathy. The body was rejecting the heart. They took the normal blood samples and that was it. They released him to me. His body. Terry didn’t want to be buried—he always told me that. So he was cremated at Griffin and Reeves and after the funeral service Buddy took the children and me out on the boat and we did what Terry asked. We let him go then. Into the water. It was very private. It was nice.”
“Who is Buddy?”
“Oh, he is the man Terry worked with on the charter business. His partner.”
“Right. I remember.”
I nodded and tried to retrack her story, looking for the opening, the reason she had come to see me.
“The blood scan from the autopsy,” I said. “What did they find in it?”
She shook her head.
“No, it’s what they didn’t find.”
“You have to remember that Terry took a ton of meds. Every day, pill after pill, liquid after liquid. It kept him alive—I mean, until the end. So the blood scan was like a page and a half long.”
“They sent it to you?”
“No, Dr. Hansen got it. He told me about it. And he was calling because there were things missing from the scan that should have been there but weren’t. CellCept and Prograf. They weren’t in his blood when he died.”
“And they’re important.”
“Exactly. He took seven capsules of Prograf every day. CellCept twice a day. These were his key meds. They kept his heart safe.”
“And without them he would die?”
“Three or four days would be all it would take. Congestive heart failure would come up quickly. And that is exactly what happened.”
“Why did he stop taking them?”
“He didn’t and that is why I need you. Someone tampered with his meds and killed him.”
I pushed all of her information through the grinder again.
“First, how do you know he was taking his medicine?”
“Because I saw him and Buddy saw him and even their charter, the man they were with on the last trip, said he saw him taking his meds. I asked them. Look, I told you, I’m a nurse. If he wasn’t taking his meds I would’ve noticed.”
“Okay, so you are saying he was taking his pills but they weren’t really his pills. Somebody tampered with them. What makes you say that?”
Her body language indicated frustration. I wasn’t making the logic jumps she thought I should be making.
“Let me back up,” she said. “A week after the funeral, before I knew anything about all of this, I started to try to get things back to normal and I cleared out the closet where Terry kept all his meds. You see, the meds are very, very expensive. I didn’t want them to go to waste. There are people who can barely afford them. We could barely afford them. Terry’s insurance had run out and we needed Medi-Cal and Medicaid just to pay for his medicine.”
“So you donated the meds?”
“Yes, it’s a tradition with transplants. When somebody…”
She looked down at her hands.
“I understand,” I said. “You give everything back.”
“Yes. To help the others. Everything is so expensive. And Terry had at least a nine-week supply. It would be worth thousands to somebody.”
“So, I took everything across on the ferry and up to the hospital. Everybody thanked me and I thought that was that. I have two children, Mr. Bosch. As hard as it was, I had to move on. For their sake.”
I thought about the daughter. I had never seen her but Terry had told me about her. He’d told me her name and why he had named her. I wondered if Graciela knew that story.
“Did you tell Dr. Hansen this?” I asked. “If somebody tampered with them you have to warn them that—”
She shook her head.
“There’s an integrity procedure. All the containers are examined. You know, the seals on bottles are checked, expiration dates checked, lot numbers checked against recall and so on. Nothing came up. Nothing had been tampered with. Nothing I had given them, at least.”
She moved closer to the edge of the couch. Now she would get to it.
“On the boat. The open containers I didn’t donate because they don’t take them. Hospital protocol.”
“You found tampering.”
“There was one more day’s dosage of Prograf and two more days of CellCept in the bottles. I put them in a plastic bag and took them to the Avalon clinic. I used to work there. I made up a story. I told them a friend of mine found the capsules in her son’s pocket while doing the laundry. She wanted to know what he was using. They ran tests and the capsules—all of them—were dummies. They were filled with a white powder. Powdered shark cartilage, actually. They sell it in specialty shops and over the Internet. It’s supposed to be some sort of homeopathic cancer treatment. It’s easily digestible and gentle. Contained in a capsule, it would have tasted the same to Terry. He would not have known the difference.”
From her small purse she pulled out a folded envelope and handed it to me. It contained two capsules. Both white with small pink printing running along the side.
“Are these from the last dosage?”
“Yes. I saved those two and gave four to my friend at the clinic.”
Using the envelope to catch its contents I used my fingers to pull one of the capsules open. It came apart freely without damaging the two pieces of the casing. The white powder it had held poured into the envelope. I knew then that it would not be a difficult process to pour the intended content of the capsules out and to replace it with a useless powder.
“What you are telling me, Graciela, is that when Terry was on that last charter he was taking pills he thought were keeping him alive but they weren’t doing a thing for him. In a way, they were actually killing him.”
“Where did those pills come from?”
“The bottles came from the hospital pharmacy. But they could have been tampered with anywhere.”
She stopped and allowed time for this to register with me.
“What is Dr. Hansen going to do?” I asked.
“He said he has no choice. If tampering took place in the hospital, then he has to know. Other patients could be in danger.”
“That’s not likely. You said two different medicines had been tampered with. That means it likely happened out of the hospital. It happened after they were in Terry’s possession.”
“I know. He said that. He told me he is going to refer it to the authorities. He has to. But I don’t know who that will be or what they will do. The hospital is in L.A. and Terry died on his boat about twenty-five miles off the coast of San Diego. I don’t know who would—”
“It would probably go to the Coast Guard first and then it will be referred to the FBI. Eventually. But that will take several days. You could move it along if you called the bureau right now. I don’t understand why you are talking to me instead of them.”
“I can’t. Not yet anyway.”
“Why not? Of course you can. You shouldn’t be coming to me. Go to the bureau with this. Tell the people he worked with. They’ll go right at this, Graciela. I know they will.”
She stood up and went to the sliding door and looked out across the pass. It was one of those days when the smog was so thick it looked like it could catch on fire.
“You were a detective. Think about it. Someone killed Terry. It could not have been random tampering—not with two different meds from two different bottles. It was intentional. So, the next question is, who had access to his meds? Who had motive? They are going to look at me first and they may not look any further. I have two children. I can’t risk that.”
She turned and looked back at me.
“And I didn’t do it.”
“Money, for one thing. There’s a life insurance policy from when he was with the bureau.”
“For one thing? Does that mean there is a second thing?”
She looked down at the floor.
“I loved my husband. But we were having trouble. He was sleeping on the boat those last few weeks. It’s probably why he agreed to take that long charter. Most of the time he just did day trips.”
“What was the trouble, Graciela? If I’m going to do this, then I have to know.”
She shrugged as if she didn’t know the answer but then answered it.
“We lived on an island and I no longer liked it. I don’t think it was a big secret that I wanted us to move back to the mainland. The problem was, his job with the bureau had left him afraid for our children. Afraid of the world. He wanted to shelter the children from the world. I didn’t. I wanted them to see the world and be ready for it.”
“And that was it?”
“There were other things. I wasn’t happy that he was still working cases.”
I stood up and joined her next to the door. I slid it open to let some of the stuffiness out. I realized I should have opened it as soon as we got inside. The place smelled sour. I’d been gone two weeks.
“He was like you. Haunted by the ones that got away. He had files, boxes of files, down on that boat.”
I had been in the boat a long time ago. There was a stateroom in the bow McCaleb had converted into an office. I remembered seeing the file boxes on the top bunk.
“For a long time he tried to keep it from me but it became obvious and we dropped the pretext. In the last few months he was going over to the mainland a lot. When he didn’t have charters. We argued about it and he just said it was something he couldn’t let go of.”
“Was it one case or more than one?”
“I don’t know. He never told me what exactly he was working on and I never asked. I didn’t care. I just wanted him to stop. I wanted him to spend time with his children. Not those people.”
“The people he was so fascinated by, the killers and their victims. Their families. He was obsessed. Sometimes I think they were more important to him than we were.”
She stared out across the pass as she said this. Opening the door had let the traffic noise in. The freeway down below sounded like a distant ovation in some sort of arena where the games never ended. I opened the door all the way and stepped out onto the deck. I looked down into the brush and thought about the life-and-death struggle that had taken place there the year before. I had survived to find out that, like Terry McCaleb, I was a father. In the months since, I had learned to find in my daughter’s eyes what Terry had once told me he had already found in his daughter’s. I knew to look for it because he had told me. I owed him something for that.
Graciela came out behind me.
“Will you do this for me? I believe what my husband said about you. I believe you can help me and help him.”
And maybe help myself, I thought but didn’t say. Instead I looked down at the freeway and saw the sun reflected on the windshields of the cars moving through the pass. It was like a thousand bright, silver eyes were watching me.
“Yes,” I said, “I will do it.”
MY FIRST INTERVIEW was on the docks at the Cabrillo Marina in San Pedro. I always liked coming down this way but rarely did. I didn’t know why. It was one of those things you forget about until you do it again and then you remember that you like it. The first time I arrived I was a sixteen-year-old runaway. I made my way down to the Pedro docks and spent my days getting tattooed and watching the tuna boats come in. I spent my nights sleeping in an unlocked towboat called Rosebud. Until a harbormaster caught me and I was sent back to the foster home, the words Hold Fast tattooed across my knuckles.
Cabrillo Marina was newer than that memory. These weren’t the working docks where I had ended up so many years before. Cabrillo Marina provided dockage for pleasure craft. The masts of a hundred sailboats poked up behind its locked gates like a forest after a wildfire. Beyond these were rows of power yachts, many in the millions of dollars in value.
Some not. Buddy Lockridge’s boat was not a floating castle. Lockridge, who Graciela McCaleb told me was her husband’s charter partner and closest friend at the end, lived on a thirty-two-foot sailboat that looked like it had the contents of a sixty-footer on its deck. It was a junker, not by virtue of the boat itself but by how it was cared for. If Lockridge had lived in a house it would’ve had cars on blocks in the yard and walls of stacked newspapers inside.
He had buzzed me in at the gate and emerged from the cabin wearing shorts, sandals and a T-shirt worn and washed so many times the inscription across the chest was unreadable. Graciela had called him ahead of time. He knew I wanted to talk to him but not the exact reason why.
“So,” he said as he stepped off the boat onto the dock. “Graciela said you are looking into Terry’s death. Is this like an insurance thing or something?”
“Yes, you could say that.”
“You like a private eye or something?”
“Something like that, yeah.”
He asked for identification and I showed him the laminated wallet copy of my license that had been sent to me from Sacramento. He raised a quizzical eyebrow at my formal first name.
“Hieronymus Bosch. Like that crazy painter, huh?”
It was rare that someone recognized the name. That told me something about Buddy Lockridge.
“Some say he was crazy. Some think he accurately foretold the future.”
The license seemed to appease him and he said we could talk in his boat or we could walk over to the chandlery to get a cup of coffee. I wanted to get a look inside his home and boat—it was basic investigative strategy—but didn’t want to be obvious about it so I told him I could use some caffeine.
The chandlery was a ship’s store that was a five-minute walk down the dock. We small-talked as we walked over and I mostly listened to Buddy complain about his portrayal in the movie that had been inspired by McCaleb’s heart transplant and his search for his donor’s killer.
“They paid you, didn’t they?” I asked when he was finished.
“Yes, but that’s not the point.”
“Yes it is. Put your money in the bank and forget about the rest. It’s just a movie.”
There were some tables and benches outside the chandlery and we took our coffees there. Lockridge started asking questions before I got the chance. I let him run his line out a little bit. My view was that he was a very important piece of my investigation, since he knew Terry McCaleb and was one of two witnesses to his death. I wanted him to feel comfortable with me so I let him ask away.
“So what’s your pedigree?” he asked. “Were you a cop?”
“Almost thirty years. With the LAPD. Half of the time I worked homicides.”
“Murders, huh? Did you know Terror?”
“I mean, Terry. I called him Terror.”
“I don’t know. I just did. I give everyone nicknames. Terry had seen firsthand the terror of the world, you know what I mean? I called him Terror.”
“What about me? What’s my nickname going to be?”
He looked at me like a sculptor sizing up a block of granite.
“Um, you are Suitcase Harry.”
“Because you’re sort of rumpled, like you live out of a suitcase.”
“So, did you know Terry?”
“Yes, I knew him. We worked a few cases together when he was with the bureau. Then one more after he got the new heart.”
He snapped his fingers and pointed at me.
“Now I remember, you were the cop. You were the one who was here that night on his boat when those two goons showed up to do him in. You saved him and then he turned around and saved you.”
“That’s right. Now can I ask some questions, Buddy?”
He spread his hands wide, indicating he was available and had nothing to hide.
“Oh, sure, man, I didn’t mean to be hogging the microphone, you know?”
I took out my notebook and put it on the table.
“Thanks. Let’s start with that last charter. Tell me about it.”
“Well, what do you want to know?”
Lockridge expelled his breath.
“That’s a tall order,” he said.
But he began to tell me the story. What he initially told me matched the minimal accounts I had read in the Las Vegas papers and what I had then heard when I attended McCaleb’s funeral. McCaleb and Lockridge had been on a. . .
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