THE old lady had changed her mind about dying but by then it was too late. She had dug her fingers into the paint and plaster of the nearby wall until most of her fingernails had broken off. Then she had gone for the neck, scrabbling to push the bloodied fingertips up and under the cord. She broke four toes kicking at the walls. She had tried so hard, shown such a desperate will to live, that it made Harry Bosch wonder what had happened before. Where was that determination and will and why had it deserted her until after she had put the extension cord noose around her neck and kicked over the chair? Why had it hidden from her?
These were not official questions that would be raised in his death report. But they were the things Bosch couldn’t avoid thinking about as he sat in his car outside the Splendid Age Retirement Home on Sunset Boulevard east of the Hollywood Freeway. It was 4:20 P.M. on the first day of the year. Bosch had drawn holiday call-out duty.
The day more than half over and that duty consisted of two suicide runs-one a gunshot, the other the hanging. Both victims were women. In both cases there was evidence of depression and desperation. Isolation. New Year’s Day was always a big day for suicides. While most people greeted the day with a sense of hope and renewal, there were those who saw it as a good day to die, some-like the old lady-not realizing their mistake until it was too late.
Bosch looked up through the windshield and watched as the latest victim’s body, on a wheeled stretcher and covered in a green blanket, was loaded into the coroner’s blue van. He saw there was one other occupied stretcher in the van and knew it was from the first suicide-a thirty-four-year-old actress who had shot herself while parked at a Hollywood overlook on Mulholland Drive. Bosch and the body crew had followed one case to the other.
Bosch’s cell phone chirped and he welcomed the intrusion into his thoughts on small deaths. It was Mankiewicz, the watch sergeant at the Hollywood Division of the Los Angeles Police Department.
“You finished with that yet?”
“I’m about to clear.”
“A changed-my-mind suicide. You got something else?”
“Yeah. And I didn’t think I should go out on the radio with it. Must be a slow day for the media-getting more what’s-happening calls from reporters than I am getting service calls from citizens. They all want to do something on the first one, the actress on Mulholland. You know, a death-of-a-Hollywood-dream story. And they’d probably jump all over this latest call, too.”
“Yeah, what is it?”
“A citizen up in Laurel Canyon. On Wonderland. He just called up and said his dog came back from a run in the woods with a bone in its mouth. The guy says it’s human-an arm bone from a kid.”
Bosch almost groaned. There were four or five call outs like this a year. Hysteria always followed by simple explanation: animal bones. Through the windshield he saluted the two body movers from the coroner’s office as they headed to the front doors of the van.
“I know what you’re thinking, Harry. Not another bone run. You’ve done it a hundred times and it’s always the same thing. Coyote, deer, whatever. But listen, this guy with the dog, he’s an MD. And he says there’s no doubt. It’s a humerus. That’s the upper arm bone. He says it’s a child, Harry. And then, get this. He said…”
There was silence while Mankiewicz apparently looked for his notes. Bosch watched the coroner’s blue van pull off into traffic. When Mankiewicz came back he was obviously reading.
“The bone’s got a fracture clearly visible just above the medial epicondyle, whatever that is.”
Bosch’s jaw tightened. He felt a slight tickle of electric current go down the back of his neck.
“That’s off my notes, I don’t know if I am saying it right. The point is, this doctor says it was just a kid, Harry. So could you humor us and go check out this humerus?”
Bosch didn’t respond.
“Sorry, had to get that in.”
“Yeah, that was funny, Mank. What’s the address?”
Mankiewicz gave it to him and told him he had already dispatched a patrol team.
“You were right to keep it off the air. Let’s try to keep it that way.”
Mankiewicz said he would. Bosch closed his phone and started the car. He glanced over at the entrance to the retirement home before pulling away from the curb. There was nothing about it that looked splendid to him. The woman who had hung herself in the closet of her tiny bedroom had no next of kin, according to the operators of the home. In death, she would be treated the way she had been in life, left alone and forgotten.
Bosch pulled away from the curb and headed toward Laurel Canyon.
BOSCH listened to the Lakers game on the car radio while he made his way into the canyon and then up Lookout Mountain to Wonderland Avenue. He wasn’t a religious follower of professional basketball but wanted to get a sense of the situation in case he needed his partner, Jerry Edgar. Bosch was working alone because Edgar had lucked into a pair of choice seats to the game. Bosch had agreed to handle the call outs and to not bother Edgar unless a homicide or something Bosch couldn’t handle alone came up. Bosch was alone also because the third member of his team, Kizmin Rider, had been promoted nearly a year earlier to Robbery-Homicide Division and still had not been replaced.
It was early third quarter, and the game with the Trail Blazers was tied. While Bosch wasn’t a hardcore fan he knew enough from Edgar’s constant talking about the game and begging to be left free of call-out duty that it was an important matchup with one of the Los Angeles team’s top rivals. He decided not to page Edgar until he had gotten to the scene and assessed the situation. He turned the radio off when he started losing the AM station in the canyon.
The drive up was steep. Laurel Canyon was a cut in the Santa Monica Mountains. The tributary roads ranged up toward the crest of the mountains. Wonderland Avenue dead-ended in a remote spot where the half-million-dollar homes were surrounded by heavily wooded and steep terrain. Bosch instinctively knew that searching for bones in the area would be a logistical nightmare. He pulled to a stop behind a patrol car already at the address Mankiewicz had provided and checked his watch. It was 4:38, and he wrote it down on a fresh page of his legal pad. He figured he had less than an hour of daylight left.
A patrol officer he didn’t recognize answered his knock. Her nameplate said Brasher. She led him back through the house to a home office where her partner, a cop whom Bosch recognized and knew was named Edgewood, was talking to a white-haired man who sat behind a cluttered desk. There was a shoe box with the top off on the desk.
Bosch stepped forward and introduced himself. The white-haired man said he was Dr. Paul Guyot, a general practitioner. Leaning forward Bosch could see that the shoe box contained the bone that had drawn them all together. It was dark brown and looked like a gnarled piece of driftwood.
He could also see a dog lying on the floor next to the doctor’s desk chair. It was a large dog with a yellow coat.
“So this is it,” Bosch said, looking back down into the box.
“Yes, Detective, that’s your bone,” Guyot said. “And as you can see…”
He reached to a shelf behind the desk and pulled down a heavy copy of Gray’s Anatomy. He opened it to a previously marked spot. Bosch noticed he was wearing latex gloves.
The page showed an illustration of a bone, anterior and posterior views. In the corner of the page was a small sketch of a skeleton with the humerus bone of both arms highlighted.
“The humerus,” Guyot said, tapping the page. “And then we have the recovered specimen.”
He reached into the shoe box and gently lifted the bone. Holding it above the book’s illustration he went through a point-by-point comparison.
“Medial epicondyle, trochlea, greater and lesser tubercle,” he said. “It’s all there. And I was just telling these two officers, I know my bones even without the book. This bone is human, Detective. There’s no doubt.”
Bosch looked at Guyot’s face. There was a slight quiver, perhaps the first showing of the tremors of Parkinson’s.
“Are you retired, Doctor?”
“Yes, but it doesn’t mean I don’t know a bone when I see-”
“I’m not challenging you, Dr. Guyot.” Bosch tried to smile. “You say it is human, I believe it. Okay? I’m just trying to get the lay of the land here. You can put that back into the box now if you want.”
Guyot replaced the bone in the shoe box.
“What’s your dog’s name?”
Bosch looked down at the dog. It appeared to be sleeping.
“When she was a pup she was a lot of trouble.”
“So, if you don’t mind telling it again, tell me what happened today.”
Guyot reached down and ruffled the dog’s collar. The dog looked up at him for a moment and then put its head back down and closed its eyes.
“I took Calamity out for her afternoon walk. Usually when I get up to the circle I take her off the leash and let her run up into the woods. She likes it.”
“What kind of dog is she?” Bosch asked.
“Yellow Lab,” Brasher answered quickly from behind him.
Bosch turned and looked at her. She realized she had made a mistake by intruding and nodded and stepped back toward the door of the room where her partner was.
“You guys can clear if you have other calls,” Bosch said. “I can take it from here.”
Edgewood nodded and signaled his partner out.
“Thank you, Doctor,” he said as he went.
“Don’t mention it.”
Bosch thought of something.
Edgewood and Brasher turned back.
“Let’s keep this off the air, okay?”
“You got it,” said Brasher, her eyes holding on Bosch’s until he looked away.
After the officers left, Bosch looked back at the doctor and noticed that the facial tremor was slightly more pronounced now.
“They didn’t believe me at first either,” he said.
“It’s just that we get a lot of calls like this. But I believe you, Doctor, so why don’t you continue with the story?”
“Well, I was up on the circle and I took off the leash. She went up into the woods like she likes to do. She’s well trained. When I whistle she comes back. Trouble is, I can’t whistle very loud anymore. So if she goes where she can’t hear me, then I have to wait, you see.”
“What happened today when she found the bone?”
“I whistled and she didn’t come back.”
“So she was pretty far up there.”
“Yes, exactly. I waited. I whistled a few more times, and then finally she came down out of the woods next to Mr. Ulrich’s house. She had the bone. In her mouth. At first I thought it was a stick, you see, and that she wanted to play fetch with it. But as she came to me I recognized the shape. I took it from her-had a fight over that- and then I called you people after I examined it here and was sure.”
You people, Bosch thought. It was always said like that, as if the police were another species. The blue species which carried armor that the horrors of the world could not pierce.
“When you called you told the sergeant that the bone had a fracture.”
Guyot picked up the bone again, handling it gently. He turned it and ran his finger along a vertical striation along the bone’s surface.
“That’s a break line, Detective. It’s a healed fracture.”
Bosch pointed to the box, and the doctor returned the bone.
“Doctor, do you mind putting your dog on a leash and taking a walk up to the circle with me?”
“Not at all. I just need to change my shoes.”
“I need to change, too. How about if I meet you out front?”
“I’m going to take this now.”
Bosch put the top back on the shoe box and then carried it with two hands, making sure not to turn the box or jostle its contents in any way.
Outside, Bosch noticed the patrol car was still in front of the house. The two officers sat inside it, apparently writing out reports. He went to his car and placed the shoe box on the front passenger seat.
Since he had been on call out he had not dressed in a suit. He had on a sport coat with blue jeans and a white oxford shirt. He stripped off his coat, folded it inside out and put it on the backseat. He noticed that the trigger from the weapon he kept holstered on his hip had worn a hole in the lining and the jacket wasn’t even a year old. Soon it would work its way into the pocket and then all the way through. More often than not he wore out his coats from the inside.
He took his shirt off next, revealing a white T-shirt beneath. He then opened the trunk to get out the pair of work boots from his crime scene equipment box. As he leaned against the rear bumper and changed his shoes he saw Brasher get out of the patrol car and come back toward him.
“So it looks legit, huh?”
“Think so. Somebody at the ME’s office will have to confirm, though.”
“You going to go up and look?”
“I’m going to try to. Not much light left, though. Probably be back out here tomorrow.”
“By the way, I’m Julia Brasher. I’m new in the division.”
“I know. I’ve heard of you.”
“I deny everything.”
She smiled at the line and put her hand out but Bosch was right in the middle of tying one of the boots. He stopped and shook her hand.
“Sorry,” she said. “My timing is off today.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
He finished tying the boot and stood up off the bumper.
“When I blurted out the answer in there, about the dog, I immediately realized you were trying to establish a rapport with the doctor. That was wrong. I’m sorry.”
Bosch studied her for a moment. She was mid-thirties with dark hair in a tight braid that left a short tail going over the back of her collar. Her eyes were dark brown. He guessed she liked the outdoors. Her skin had an even tan.
“Like I said, don’t worry about it.”
“My partner’s working on something else while I check this out.”
He saw the doctor coming out the front door of the house with the dog on a leash. He decided not to get out his crime scene jumpsuit and put it on. He glanced over at Julia Brasher, who was now watching the approaching dog.