In this first installment of the Renée Ballard series, #1 bestselling author Michael Connelly introduces a "complicated and driven" young detective fighting to prove herself on the LAPD's toughest beat (The New York Times).
Renee Ballard works the midnight shift in Hollywood, beginning many investigations but finishing few, as each morning she turns everything over to the daytime units. It's a frustrating job for a once up-and-coming detective, but it's no accident. She's been given this beat as punishment after filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor.
But one night Ballard catches two assignments she doesn't want to part with. First, a prostitute is brutally beaten and left for dead in a parking lot. All signs point to a crime of premeditation, not passion, by someone with big evil on his mind. Then she sees a young waitress breathe her last after being caught up in a nightclub shooting. Though dubbed a peripheral victim, the waitress buys Ballard a way in, and this time she is determined not to give up at dawn. Against orders and her partner's wishes, she works both cases by day while maintaining her shift by night.
As the investigations intertwine, Ballard is forced to face her own demons and confront a danger she could never have imagined. To find justice for these victims who can't speak for themselves, she must put not only her career but her life on the line.
Propulsive as a jolt of adrenaline and featuring a bold and defiant new heroine, The Late Show is yet more proof that Michael Connelly is "a master of the genre" (Washington Post).
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About the Author
Date of Birth:July 21, 1956
Place of Birth:Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Education:B.A. in Journalism, University of Florida, 1980
Read an Excerpt
The Late Show
By Michael Connelly
Hachette Book GroupCopyright © 2017 Hieronymus, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Ballard and Jenkins rolled up on the house on El Centro shortly before midnight. It was the first call of the shift. There was already a patrol cruiser at the curb out front and Ballard recognized the two blue suiters standing on the front porch of the bungalow with a gray-haired woman in a bathrobe. John Stanley was the shift's senior lead officer — the street boss — and his partner was Jacob Ross.
"I think this one's yours," Jenkins said.
They had found in their two-year partnership that Ballard was the better of the two at working with female victims. It wasn't that Jenkins was an ogre but Ballard was more understanding of the emotions of female victims. The opposite was true when they rolled up on a case with a male victim.
"Roger that," Ballard said.
They got out of the car and headed toward the lighted porch. Ballard carried her rover in her hand. As they went up the three steps, Stanley introduced them to the woman. Her name was Leslie Anne Lantana and she was seventy-seven years old. Ballard didn't think there was going to be much for them to do here. Most burglaries amounted to a report, maybe a call for the fingerprint car to come by if they got lucky and saw some indication that the thief had touched surfaces from which latent prints were likely to be pulled.
"Mrs. Lantana got a fraud alert e-mail tonight saying someone attempted to charge a purchase on Amazon to her credit card," Stanley said.
"But it wasn't you," Ballard said to Mrs. Lantana, stating the obvious.
"No, it was on the card I keep for emergencies and I never use it online," Lantana said. "That's why the purchase was flagged. I use a different card for Amazon."
"Okay," Ballard said. "Did you call the credit-card company?"
"First I went to check on the card to see if I'd lost it, and I found my wallet was missing from my purse. It's been stolen."
"Any idea where or when it was stolen?"
"I went to Ralphs for my groceries yesterday, so I know I had my wallet then. After that I came home and I haven't gone out."
"Did you use a credit card to pay?"
"No, cash. I always pay cash at Ralphs. But I did pull out my Ralphs card to get the savings."
"Do you think you could've left your wallet at Ralphs? Maybe at the cash register when you pulled out the card?"
"No, I don't think so. I'm very careful about my things. My wallet and my purse. And I'm not senile."
"I didn't mean to suggest that, ma'am. I'm just asking questions."
Ballard moved in another direction, even though she wasn't convinced that Lantana had not left her wallet behind at Ralphs, where it could have been snatched by anybody.
"Who lives here with you, ma'am?" she asked.
"No one," Lantana said. "I live alone. Except for Cosmo. He's my dog."
"Since you got back from Ralphs yesterday, has anyone knocked on your door or been in the house?"
"And no friends or relatives visited?"
"No, but they wouldn't have taken my wallet if they had come by."
"Of course, and I don't mean to imply otherwise. I'm just trying to get an idea of comings and goings. So you're saying you have been home the whole time since Ralphs?"
"Yes, I've been home."
"What about Cosmo? Do you walk Cosmo?"
"Sure, twice a day. But I lock the house when I go out and I don't go far. He's an old dog and I'm not getting any younger myself."
Ballard smiled sympathetically.
"Do you take these walks at the same time every day?"
"Yes, we keep a schedule. It's better for the dog."
"About how long are your walks?"
"Thirty minutes in the morning and usually a little longer in the afternoon. Depending on how we feel."
Ballard nodded. She knew that all it would have taken for a thief cruising the area south of Santa Monica was to spot the woman walking her dog and follow her home. He'd keep watch to determine if she lived alone and then come back the next day at the same time when she took the dog out again. Most people didn't realize that their simplest routines made them vulnerable to predators. A practiced thief would be in and out of the house in ten minutes tops.
"Have you looked around to see if anything else is missing, ma'am?" Ballard asked.
"Not yet," Lantana said. "I called the police as soon as I knew my wallet was gone."
"Well, let's go in and take a quick look around and see if you notice anything else missing," Ballard said.
While Ballard escorted Lantana through the house, Jenkins went to check whether the lock on the back door had been tampered with. In Lantana's bedroom, there was a dog on a sleeping cushion. He was a boxer mix and his face was white with age. His shining eyes tracked Ballard but he did not get up. He was too old. He emitted a deep-chested growl.
"Everything's all right, Cosmo," Lantana assured him.
"What is he, boxer and what?" Ballard asked.
"Ridgeback," Lantana said. "We think."
Ballard wasn't sure whether the "we" referred to Lantana and the dog or somebody else. Maybe Lantana and her veterinarian.
The old woman finished her survey of the house with a look through her jewelry drawer and reported that nothing other than the wallet seemed to be missing. It made Ballard think about Ralphs again, or that the burglar possibly thought he had less time than he actually had to go through the house.
Jenkins rejoined them and said there were no indications that the lock on the front or back door had been picked, jimmied, or in any other way tampered with.
"When you walked the dog, did you see anything unusual on the street?" Ballard asked the old woman. "Anybody out of place?"
"No, nothing unusual," Lantana said.
"Is there any construction on the street? Workers hanging around?"
"No, not around here."
Ballard asked Lantana to show her the e-mail notice she had received from the credit-card company. They went to a small nook in the kitchen, where Lantana had a laptop computer, a printer, and filing trays stacked with envelopes. It was obviously the home station, where she took care of paying bills and online ordering. Lantana sat down and pulled up the e-mail alert on her computer screen. Ballard leaned over her shoulder to read it. She then asked Lantana to call the credit-card company again.
Lantana made the call on a wall phone with a long cord that stretched to the nook. Eventually the phone was handed to Ballard and she stepped into the hallway with Jenkins, pulling the cord to its full extension. She was talking to a fraud alert specialist with an English-Indian accent. Ballard identified herself as a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department and asked for the shipping address that had been entered for the credit-card purchase before it was rejected as possibly fraudulent. The fraud alert specialist said he could not provide that information without court approval.
"What do you mean?" Ballard asked. "You are the fraud alert specialist, right? This was fraud, and if you give me the address, I might be able to do something about it."
"I am sorry," the specialist said. "I cannot do this. Our legal office must tell me to do so and they have not."
"Let me talk to the legal office."
"They are closed now. It is lunchtime and they close."
"Then let me talk to your supervisor."
Ballard looked at Jenkins and shook her head in frustration.
"Look, it's all going to the burglary table in the morning," Jenkins said. "Why don't you let them deal with it?"
"Because they won't deal with it," Ballard said. "It will get lost in the stack. They won't follow up and that's not fair to her."
She nodded toward the kitchen, where the crime victim was sitting and looking forlorn.
"Nobody said anything about anything being fair," Jenkins said. "It is what it is."
After five minutes the supervisor came on the line. Ballard explained that they had a fluid situation and needed to move quickly to catch the person who stole Mrs. Lantana's credit card. The supervisor explained that the attempted use of the credit card did not go through, so the fraud alert system had worked.
"There is no need for this 'fluid situation,' as you say," he said.
"The system only works if we catch the guy," Ballard said. "Don't you see? Stopping the card from being used is only part of it. That protects your corporate client. It doesn't protect Mrs. Lantana, who had someone inside her house."
"I am sorry," the supervisor said. "I cannot help you without documentation from the courts. It is our protocol."
"What is your name?"
"My name is Irfan."
"Where are you, Irfan?"
"How do you mean?"
"Are you in Mumbai? Delhi? Where?"
"I am in Mumbai, yes."
"And that's why you don't give a shit. Because this guy's never going come into your house and steal your wallet in Mumbai. Thanks very much."
She stepped back into the kitchen and hung up the phone before the useless supervisor could respond. She turned back to her partner.
"Okay, we go back to the barn, write it up, give it to the burglary table," she said. "Let's go."CHAPTER 2
Ballard and Jenkins didn't make it back to the station to begin writing the report on the Lantana burglary. They were diverted to Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center by the watch commander to check out an assault. Ballard parked in an ambulance slot by the ER entrance, left the grille lights on, and then she and Jenkins entered through the automatic doors. Ballard noted the time for the report she would write later. It was 12:41 a.m. according to the clock over the reception window in the ER waiting room.
There was a P-1 standing there, his skin as white as a vampire's. Ballard gave him the nod and he came over to brief them. He was a slick sleeve and maybe even a boot and too new in the division for her to know his name.
"We found her in a lot on Santa Monica by Highland," the officer stated. "Looked like she had been dumped there. Whoever did it probably thought she was dead. But she was alive and she sort of woke up and was semiconscious for a couple minutes. Somebody had worked her over really good. One of the paramedics said she might have a skull fracture. They have her in the back. My TO's back there too."
The assault may have now been elevated to an abduction, and that increased Ballard's level of interest. She checked the patrolman's plate and saw his name was Taylor.
"Taylor, I'm Ballard," she said, "and this is Detective Jenkins, fellow denizen of the dark. When did you get to Super Six?"
"First deployment actually," Taylor said.
"Right from the academy? Well, welcome. You'll have more fun in the Six than you'll have anywhere else. Who's your training officer?"
"Officer Smith, ma'am."
"I'm not your mother. Don't call me ma'am."
"Sorry, ma'am. I mean —"
"You're in good hands with Smitty. He's cool. You guys get an ID on the vic?"
"No, there was no purse or anything but we were trying to talk to her while we were waiting on the paramedics. She was in and out, not making a lot of sense. Sounded like she said her name was Ramona."
"She say anything else?"
"Yeah, she said 'the upside-down house.'"
"'The upside-down house'?"
"That's what she said. Officer Smith asked if she knew her attacker and she said no. He asked where she was attacked and she said 'the upside-down house.' Like I said, she wasn't making a lot of sense."
Ballard nodded and thought about what that could mean.
"Okay," she said. "We'll go back and check things out."
Ballard nodded to Jenkins and headed toward the door that led to the ER's treatment bays. She was wearing a charcoal-gray Van Heusen suit with a chalk pinstripe. She always thought the formality of the suit went well with her light brown skin and sun-streaked hair. And it had an authority that helped overcome her slight stature. She pulled her jacket back enough for the receptionist behind the glass window to see the badge on her belt and open the automatic door.
The intake center consisted of six patient assessment and treatment bays behind closed curtains. Doctors, nurses, and technicians were moving about a command station in the center of the room. There was organized chaos, everybody with a job to do and some unseen hand choreographing it all. It was a busy night, but every night was at Hollywood Pres.
Another patrol officer was standing in front of the curtain for treatment bay 4 and Ballard and Jenkins proceeded directly toward him. He had three hash marks on his sleeves — fifteen years on the department — and Ballard knew him well.
"Smitty, the doc in there?" Ballard asked.
Officer Melvin Smith looked up from his phone, where he had been composing a text.
"Ballard, Jenkins, how's it hanging?" Smith said. Then: "Nah, she's alone. They're about to take her up to the OR. Fractured skull, brain swelling. They said they need to open her head up to relieve the pressure."
"I know the feeling," Jenkins said.
"So she's not talking?" Ballard asked.
"Not anymore," Smith said. "They sedated her and I overheard them talking about inducing a coma till the swelling goes down. Hey, how's Lola, Ballard? Haven't seen her in a while."
"Lola's good," Ballard said. "Did you guys find her, or was it a call?"
"It was a hot shot," Smith said. "Somebody must've called it in but they were GOA when we got there. The vic was just lying there alone in the parking lot. We thought she was dead when we first rolled up."
"Did you call anybody out to hold the crime scene?" Ballard asked.
"Nah, there's nothing there but blood on the asphalt, Ballard," Smith said. "This was a body dump."
"Come on, Smitty, that's bullshit. We have to run a scene. Why don't you guys clear here and go hold the lot until we can get a team there. You can sit in the car and do your paperwork or something."
Smith looked to Jenkins as the senior detective for approval.
"She's right," Jenkins said. "We have to set up a crime scene."
"Roger that," Smith said, his tone revealing he thought the assignment was a waste of time.
Ballard went through the curtain into bay 4. The victim was on her back on a bed, a light green hospital smock over her damaged body. She was tubed in both arms and nose. Ballard had seen plenty of victims of violence over her fourteen years with the department, but this was one of the worst cases she had seen where the victim was still alive. The woman was small and looked to be no more than 120 pounds. Both of her eyes were swollen tightly shut, the orbit of the right eye clearly broken under the skin. The shape of her face was further distorted by swelling down the entire right side, where the skin was abraded. It was clear she had been beaten viciously and dragged across rough terrain — probably the parking lot — on her face. Ballard leaned in close over the bed to study the wound on the lower lip. She saw that it was a deep bite mark that had savagely split the lip. The torn tissue was being held together by two temporary stitches. It would need the attention of a plastic surgeon. If the victim survived.
"Jesus Christ," Ballard said.
She pulled her phone off her belt and opened the camera app. She started taking photos, beginning with a full-face shot of the victim, then moving into close-ups of the individual facial wounds. Jenkins watched without comment. He knew how she worked.
Ballard unbuttoned the top of the smock to examine the chest for injuries. Her eyes were drawn to the left side of the torso, where several deep bruises were delineated and straight and appeared to have come from an object rather than someone's fists.
"Look at this," Ballard said. "Brass knuckles?"
Jenkins leaned in.
"Looks like it," he said. "Maybe."
He pulled back, disgusted by what he saw. John Jenkins had twenty-five years in and Ballard knew he had been running on empty for a long time when it came to empathy. He was a good detective — when he wanted to be. But he was like a lot of guys who had been around for so long. He just wanted a place to be left alone to do his job. The police headquarters downtown was called the PAB, for Police Administration Building. Guys like Jenkins believed that PAB stood for Politics and Bureaucracy, or Politics and Bullshit, take your pick.
The night-shift assignment was usually awarded to those who had run afoul of the politics and bureaucracy of the department. But Jenkins was a rare volunteer for the eleven-to-seven shift. His wife had cancer and he liked to work during her sleeping hours so he could be home every day when she was awake and needed him.
Ballard took more photos. The victim's breasts were also damaged and bruised, the nipple on the right side torn, like the lip, by gnashing teeth. The left breast was round and full, the right smaller and flat. Implants, one of which had burst inside the body. Ballard knew it took a hell of an impact to do that. She had seen it only once previously, and that victim was dead.
She gently closed the smock over the victim and checked the hands for defensive wounds. The fingernails were broken and bloody. Deep purple marks and abrasions circled the wrists, indicating that the victim had been bound and held captive long enough to produce chafing wounds. Ballard guessed hours, not minutes. Maybe even days.
Excerpted from The Late Show by Michael Connelly. Copyright © 2017 Hieronymus, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Hachette Book Group.
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