BOSCH was just coming down out of the squiggle of treacherous freeway called The Grapevine when his phone chirped. It was Edgar.
“Harry, I’ve been trying to call you. Where y’at?”
“I was in the mountains. I’m less than an hour out. What’s going on?”
“They’ve got a fix on Stokes. He’s squatting in the Usher.”
Bosch thought about this. The Usher was a 1930s hotel a block off Hollywood Boulevard. For decades it was a weekly flophouse and prostitution center until redevelopment on the boulevard pushed up against it and suddenly made it a valuable property again. It was sold, closed and readied to go through a major renovation and restoration that would allow it to rejoin the new Hollywood as an elegant grand dame. But the project had been delayed by city planners who held final approval. And in that delay was an opportunity for the denizens of the night.
While the Hotel Usher awaited rebirth, the rooms on its thirteen floors became the homes of squatters who snuck past the fences and plywood barriers to find shelter. In the previous two months Bosch had been inside the Usher twice while searching for suspects. There was no electricity. There was no water, but the squatters used the toilets anyway and the place smelled like an aboveground sewer. There were no doors on any of the rooms and no furniture. People used rolled-up carpets in the rooms as their beds. It was a nightmare to try to search safely. You moved down the hall and every doorway was open and a possible blind for a gunman. You kept your eyes on the openings and you might step on a needle.
Bosch flipped on the car’s emergency lights and put his foot hard on the pedal.
“How do we know he’s in there?” he asked.
“From last week when we were looking for him. Some guys in narcs were working something in there and got a line on him squatting all the way up on the thirteenth floor. You gotta be scared of something to go all the way to the top in a place with the elevators shut down.”
“Okay, what’s the plan?”
“We’re going to go in big. Four teams from patrol, me and the narcs. We start at the bottom and work our way up.”
“When do you go?”
“We’re about to go into roll call now and talk it out, then we go. We can’t wait for you, Harry. We have to take this guy before he gets out and about.”
Bosch wondered for a moment if Edgar’s hurry was legitimate or simply an effort to get even with Bosch for his cutting him out of several of the investigative moves on the case.
“I know,” he finally said. “You going to have a rover with you?”
“Yeah, we’re using channel two.”
“Okay, I’ll see you there. Put your vest on.”
He said the last not because he was concerned about Stokes being armed, but because he knew a heavily armed team of cops in the enclosed confinement of a dark hotel hallway had danger written all over it.
Bosch closed the phone and pushed the pedal down even harder. Soon he crossed the northern perimeter of the city and was in the San Fernando Valley. Saturday traffic was light. He switched freeways twice and was cruising through the Cahuenga Pass into Hollywood a half hour after hanging up with Edgar. As he exited onto Highland he could see the Hotel Usher rising a few blocks to the south. Its windows were uniformly dark, the curtains stripped out in preparation for the work ahead.
Bosch had no rover with him and had forgotten to ask Edgar where the command post for the search would be located. He didn’t want to simply drive up to the hotel in his slickback and risk exposing the operation. He took out his phone and called the watch office. Mankiewicz answered.
“Mank, you ever take a day off?”
“Not in January. My kids celebrate Christmas and Chanukah. I need the OT. What’s up?”
“Can you get me the CP location on the thing at the Usher?”
“Yeah, it’s the parking lot at Hollywood Presbyterian.”
“Got it. Thanks.”
Two minutes later Bosch pulled into the church parking lot. There were five squad cars parked there along with a slickback and a narc car. The cars were parked up close to the church so that they were shielded from view of the windows of the Usher, which rose into the sky on the other side of the church.
Two officers sat in one of the patrol cars. Bosch parked and walked over to the driver side window. The car was running. Bosch knew it was the pickup car. When the others grabbed Stokes in the Usher, a radio call would go out for the pickup. They would drive over and pick up the prisoner.
“Where are they?”
“Twelfth floor,” said the driver. “Nothing yet.”
“Let me borrow your rover.”
The cop handed his radio out the window to Bosch. Bosch called Edgar on channel two.
“Harry, you here?”
“Yeah, I’m coming up.”
“We’re almost done.”
“I’m still coming up.”
He gave the radio back to the driver and started walking out of the parking lot. When he got to the construction fence that surrounded the Usher property he went to the north end, where he knew he would find the seam in the fence the squatters used to get in. It was partially hidden behind a construction sign announcing the arrival soon of historic luxury apartments. He pulled back the loose fence and ducked through.
There were two main staircases at either end of the building. Bosch assumed there would be a team of uniform officers posted at the bottom of each in case Stokes somehow slipped through the search and tried to escape. Bosch took out his badge and held it up and out as he opened the exterior stairwell door on the east side of the building.
As he stepped into the stairwell he was met by two officers who held their weapons out and at their sides. Bosch nodded and the cops nodded back. Bosch started up the stairs.
He tried to pace himself. Each floor had two runners of stairs and a landing for the turn. He had twenty-four to climb. The smell from the overflowing toilets was stifling and all he could think about was what Edgar had told him about all odors being particulate. Sometimes knowledge was an awful thing.
The hallway doors had been removed and with them the floor markings. Though someone had taken it upon himself to paint numbers on the walls of the lower landings, as Bosch got higher the markings disappeared and he lost count and became unsure what floor he was on.
At either the ninth or tenth floor he took a breather. He sat down on a reasonably clean step and waited for his breathing to become more regular. The air was cleaner this high up. Fewer squatters used the upper floors of the building because of the climb.
Bosch listened but he heard no human sounds. He knew the search teams had to be on the top floor by now. He was wondering if the tip on Stokes had been wrong, or if the suspect had slipped out.
Finally, he stood and started up again. A minute later he realized he had counted wrong-but in his favor. He stepped up onto the last landing and the open door of the penthouse-the thirteenth floor.
He blew out his breath and almost smiled at the prospect of not having to climb another set of stairs when he heard shouts coming from the hallway.
“There! Right there!”
“Stokes, no! Police! Free-”
Two quick and brutally loud gunshots sounded and echoed down the hall, obliterating the voices. Bosch drew his gun and quickly moved to the doorway. As he began to peek around the jamb he heard two more shots and pulled back.
The echo prevented him from identifying the origin of the shots. He leaned around the jamb again and looked into the hallway. It was dark with light slashing through it from the doorways of the rooms on the west side. He saw Edgar standing in a combat crouch behind two uniformed officers. Their backs were to Bosch and their weapons were pointed at one of the open doorways. They were fifty feet down the hall from Bosch.
“Clear!” a voice yelled. “We’re clear in here!”
The men in the hall raised their weapons up in unison and moved toward the open doorway.
“LAPD in the back!” Bosch yelled and then stepped into the hallway.
Edgar glanced back at him as he followed the two uniforms into the room.
Bosch walked quickly down the hallway and was about to enter the room when he had to step back to let a uniform officer out. He was talking on his rover.
“Central, we need paramedics to forty-one Highland, thirteenth floor. Suspect down, gunshot wounds.”
As Bosch entered the room he looked back. The cop on the rover was Edgewood. Their eyes locked for just a moment and then Edgewood disappeared into the shadows of the hallway. Bosch turned back to view the room.
Stokes was sitting in a closet that had no door. He was leaning back against the rear wall. His hands were in his lap, one holding a small gun, a.25 caliber pocket rocket. He wore black jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt that was covered with his own blood. He had entry wounds on his chest and right below his left eye. His eyes were open but he was clearly dead.
Edgar was squatted in front of the body. He didn’t touch it. There was no use trying for a pulse and everybody knew it. The smell of burnt cordite invaded Bosch’s nose and it was a welcome relief from the smell outside the room.
Bosch turned around to take in the whole room. There were too many people in the small space. There were three uniforms, Edgar, and a plainclothes Bosch assumed was a narc. Two of the uniforms were huddled together at the far wall, studying two bullet holes in the plaster. One raised a finger and was about to probe one of the holes.
“Don’t touch that,” Bosch barked. “Don’t touch anything. I want everybody to back out of here and wait for OIS. Who fired a weapon?”
“Edge did it,” said the narc. “The guy was waitin’ for us in the closet and we-”
“Excuse me, what’s your name?”
“Okay, Phillips, I don’t want to hear your story. Save it for OIS. Go get Edgewood and go back downstairs and wait. When the paramedics get here tell them never mind. Save them a trip up the steps.”
The cops reluctantly shuffled out of the room, leaving only Bosch and Edgar. Edgar got up and walked over to the window. Bosch went to the corner farthest from the closet and looked back at the body. He then approached the body and squatted down in the same spot where Edgar had been.
He studied the gun in Stokes’s hand. He assumed that when it was removed from the hand OIS investigators would find the serial number had been burned away by acid.
He thought about the shots he had heard while on the stairway landing. Two and two. It was hard to judge them by memory, especially considering his position at the time. But he thought the first two rounds had been louder and heavier than the second two. If that was so it would mean Stokes had fired his little popper after Edgewood had fired his service weapon. It would mean Stokes had gotten off two shots after he had been hit in the face and chest-wounds that appeared instantly fatal to Bosch.
“What do you think?”
Edgar had come up behind him.
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Bosch said. “He’s dead. It’s an OIS case now.”
“What it is is a closed case, partner. I guess we didn’t have to worry about whether the DA would file the case after all.”
Bosch nodded. He knew there would be wrap-up investigation and paperwork, but the case was finished. It would ultimately be classified as “closed by other means,” meaning no trial and no conviction but carried in the solved column just the same.
“Guess not,” he said.
Edgar swatted him on the shoulder.
“Our last case together, Harry. We go out on top.”
“Yeah. Tell me something, did you mention the DA and about it being a juvy case during the briefing in the roll-call room this morning?”
After a long moment Edgar said, “Yeah, I might’ve mentioned something about it.”
“Did you tell them we were spinning our wheels, the way you said it to me? That the DA probably wouldn’t even file a case on Stokes?”
“Yeah, I might’ve said it like that. Why?”
Bosch didn’t answer. He stood up and walked over to the room’s window. He could see the Capitol Records building and farther past it the Hollywood sign up on the crest of the hill. Painted on the side of a building a few blocks away was an anti-smoking sign showing a cowboy with a drooping cigarette in his mouth accompanied by a warning about cigarettes causing impotence.
He turned back to Edgar.
“You going to hold the scene until OIS gets here?”
“Yeah, sure. They’re going to be pissed off about having to hump the thirteen floors.”
Bosch headed toward the door.
“Where are you going, Harry?”
Bosch walked out of the room without answering. He used the stairwell at the farthest end of the hallway so that he wouldn’t catch up to the others as he was going down.