The Wrong Side of Goodbye

Hellraiser

A former police reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Connelly is the author of Harry Bosch thriller series as well as several stand-alone bestsellers, including the highly acclaimed legal thriller, The Lincoln Lawyer, selected for the Richard & Judy Book Club. Michael Connelly has been President of the Mystery Writers of America. His books have been translated into 31 languages and have won awards all over the world, including the Edgar and Anthony Awards. Bosch, the TV series based on Michael's novels, is the most watched original series on Amazon Prime Instant Video and the third season is due out next year. He lives in Tampa, Florida, with his family. Visit his website at http://www.michaelconnelly.com/

 

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 They charged from the cover of the elephant grass toward the LZ, five of them swarming the slick on both sides, one among them yelling, “Go! Go! Go!”—as if each man needed to be prodded and reminded that these were the most dangerous seconds of their lives.

The rotor wash bent the grass back and blew the marker smoke in all directions. The noise was deafening as the turbine geared up for a heavy liftoff. The door gunners pulled everyone in by their pack straps and the chopper was quickly in the air again, having alighted no longer than a dragonfly on water.

The tree line could be seen through the portside door as the craft rose and started to bank. Then came the muzzle flashes from the banyan trees. Somebody yelled, “Snipers!”—as if the door gunner had to be told what he had out there.

It was an ambush. Three distinct flash points, three snipers. They had waited until the helicopter was up and flying fat, an easy target from six hundred feet.

The gunner opened up his M60, sending a barrage of fire into the tree­tops, shredding them with lead. But the sniper rounds kept coming. The slick had no armor plating, a decision made nine thousand miles away to take speed and maneuverability over the burden of weight and protection.

One shot hit the turbine cowling, a thock sound reminding one of the helpless men on board of a fouled-off baseball hitting the hood of a car in the parking lot. Then came the snap of glass shattering as the next round tore through the cockpit. It was a million-to-one shot, hitting both the pilot and co-pilot at once. The pilot was killed instantly and the co-pilot clamped his hands to his neck in an instinctive but helpless move to keep blood inside his body. The helicopter yawed into a clockwise spin and was soon hurtling out of control. It spun away from the trees and across the rice paddies. The men in the back started to yell helplessly. The man who had just had a memory of baseball tried to orient himself. The world outside the slick was spinning. He kept his eyes on a single word imprinted on the metal wall separating the cockpit from the cargo hold. It said Advance— the letter Awith a crossbar that was an arrow pointed forward.

He didn’t move his eyes from the word even as the screaming intensified and he could feel the craft losing altitude. Seven months backing recon and now on short time. He knew he wasn’t going to make it back. This was the end.

The last thing he heard was someone yell, “Brace! Brace! Brace!”— as if there was a possibility that anybody on board had a shot at surviving the impact, never mind the fire that would come after. And never mind the Vietcong who would come through with machetes after that.

While the others screamed in panic he whispered a name to himself.

“Vibiana...”

He knew he would never see her again.

“Vibiana...”

The helicopter dove into one of the rice paddy dikes and exploded into a million metal parts. A moment later the spilled fuel caught fire and burned through the wreckage, spreading flames across the surface of the paddy water. Black smoke rose into the air, marking the wreckage like an LZ marker.

The snipers reloaded and waited for the rescue choppers to come next.

 

1

 

Bosch didn’t mind the wait. The view was spectacular. He didn’t bother with the waiting room couch. Instead he stood with his face a foot from the glass and took in the view that ranged from the rooftops of downtown to the Pacific Ocean. He was fifty-nine floors up in the U.S. Bank Tower, and Creighton was making him wait because it was something he always did, going all the way back to his days at Parker Center, where the waiting room only had a low-angle view of the back of City Hall. Creighton had moved a mere five blocks west since his days with the Los Angeles Police Department but he certainly had risen far beyond that to the lofty heights of the city’s financial gods.

Still, view or no view, Bosch didn’t know why anyone would keep offices in the tower. The tallest building west of the Mississippi, it had previously been the target of two foiled terrorist plots. Bosch imagined there had to be a general uneasiness added to the pressures of work for every soul who entered its glass doors each morning. Relief might soon come in the form of the Wilshire Grand Center, a glass-sheathed spire rising to the sky a few blocks away. When finished it would take the distinction of tallest building west of the Mississippi. It would probably take the target as well.

Bosch loved any opportunity to see his city from up high. When he was a young detective he would often take extra shifts as a spotter in one of the Department’s airships—just to take a ride above Los Angeles and be reminded of its seemingly infinite vastness.

He looked down at the 110 freeway and saw it was backed up all the way down through South-Central. He also noted the number of helipads on the tops of the buildings below him. The helicopter had become the commuter vessel of the elite. He had heard that even some of the higher-contract basketball players on the Lakers and Clippers took helos to work at the Staples Center.

The glass was thick enough to keep out any sound. The city below was silent. The only thing Bosch heard was the receptionist behind him answering the phone with the same greeting over and over: “Trident Security, how can I help you?”

Bosch’s eye held on a fast-moving patrol car going south on Figueroa toward the L.A. Live district. He saw the 01 painted large on the trunk and knew that the car was from Central Division. Soon it was followed in the air by an LAPD airship that moved at a lower altitude than the floor he stood on. Bosch was tracking it when he was pulled away by a voice from behind.

“Mr. Bosch?”

He turned to see a woman standing in the middle of the waiting room. She wasn’t the receptionist.

“I’m Gloria. We spoke on the phone,” she said.

“Right, yes,” Bosch said. “Mr. Creighton’s assistant.”

“Yes, nice to meet you. You can come back now.”

“Good. Any longer and I was going to jump.”

She didn’t smile. She led Bosch through a door into a hallway with framed watercolors perfectly spaced on the walls.

“It’s impact-resistant glass,” she said. “It can take the force of a category-five hurricane.”

“Good to know,” Bosch said. “And I was only joking. Your boss had a history of keeping people waiting—back when he was a deputy chief with the police department.”

“Oh, really? I haven’t noticed it here.”

This made no sense to Bosch, since she had just fetched him from the waiting room fifteen minutes after the appointed meeting time.

“He must’ve read it in a management book back when he was climbing the ranks,” Bosch said. “You know, keep ’em waiting even if they’re on time. Gives you the upper hand when you finally bring them into the room, lets them know you are a busy man.”

“I’m not familiar with that business philosophy.”

“Probably more of a cop philosophy.”

They entered an office suite. In the outer office, there were two separate desk arrangements, one occupied by a man in his twenties wearing a suit, and the other empty and, he assumed, belonging to Gloria. They walked between the desks to a door and Gloria opened it and then stepped to the side.

“Go on in,” she said. “Can I bring you a bottle of water?”

“No, thanks,” Bosch said. “I’m fine.”

Bosch entered an even larger room, with a desk area to the left and an informal seating area to the right, where a couple of couches faced each other across a glass-topped coffee table. Creighton was sitting behind his desk, indicating Bosch’s appointment was going to be formal.

It had been more than a decade since Bosch had seen Creighton in person. He could not remember the occasion but assumed it was a squad meeting where Creighton had come in and made an announcement concerning the overtime budget or the department’s travel protocols. Back then Creighton was the head bean counter— in charge of budgeting for the department among his other management duties. He was known for instituting strict policies on overtime that required detailed explanations to be written on green slips that were subject to supervisor approval. Since that approval, or disapproval, usually came after the extra hours were already worked, the new system was viewed as an effort to dissuade cops from working overtime or, worse yet, get them to work overtime and then deny authorization or replace it with comp time. It was during this posting that Creighton became universally known as “Cretin” by the rank and file.

Though Creighton left the department for the private sector not long after that, the “greenies” were still in use. The mark he left on the department had not been a daring rescue or a gun battle or the takedown of an apex predator. It had been the green overtime slip.

“Harry, come in,” Creighton said. “Sit down.”

Bosch moved to the desk. Creighton was a few years older than Harry but in good shape. He stood behind the desk with his hand held forward. He wore a gray suit that was tailor-cut to his taut frame. He looked like money. Bosch shook his hand and then sat down in front of the desk. He hadn’t gotten dressed up for the appointment. He was in blue jeans, a blue denim shirt, and a charcoal corduroy jacket he’d had for at least twelve years. These days Bosch’s work suits from his days with the department were wrapped in plastic. He didn’t want to pull one of them out just for a meeting with Cretin.

“Chief, how are you?” he said.

“It’s not ‘chief’ anymore,” Creighton said with a laugh. “Those days are long ago. Call me John.”

“John, then.”

“Sorry to keep you waiting out there. I had a client on the phone and, well, the client always comes first. Am I right?”

“Sure, no problem. I enjoyed the view.”

The view through the window behind Creighton was in the opposite direction, stretching northeasterly across the Civic Center and to the snowcapped mountains in San Bernardino. But Bosch guessed that the mountains weren’t the reason Creighton picked this office. It was the Civic Center. From his desk Creighton looked down on the spire of City Hall, the Police Administration Building, and the Los Angeles Times Building. Creighton was above them all.

“It is truly spectacular seeing the world from this angle,” Creighton said.

Bosch nodded and got down to business.

“So,” he said. “What can I do for you...John?”

“Well, first of all, I appreciate you coming in without really knowing why I wished to see you. Gloria told me she had a difficult time persuading you to come.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry about that. But like I told her, if this is about a job, I’m not interested. I’ve got a job.”

“I heard. San Fernando. But that’s gotta be part-time, right?”

He said it with a slightly mocking tone and Bosch remembered a line from a movie he once saw: “If you’re not cop, you’re little people.” It also held that if you worked for a little department, you were still little people.

“It keeps me as busy as I want to be,” he said. “I also have a private ticket. I pick up stuff from time to time on that.”

“All referrals, correct?” Creighton said.

Bosch looked at him a moment.

“Am I supposed to be impressed that you checked me out?” he finally said. “I’m not interested in working here. I don’t care what the pay is, I don’t care what the cases are.”

“Well, let me just ask you something, Harry,” Creighton said. “Do you know what we do here?”

Bosch looked over Creighton’s shoulder and out at the mountains before answering.

“I know you are high-level security for those who can afford it,” he said.

“Exactly,” Creighton said.

He held up three fingers on his right hand in what Bosch assumed was supposed to be a trident.

“Trident Security,” Creighton said. “Specializing in financial, technological, and personal security. I started the California branch ten years ago. We have bases here, in New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami, London, and Frankfurt. We are about to open in Istanbul. We are a very large operation with thousands of clients and even more connections in our fields of expertise.”

“Good for you,” Bosch said.

He had spent about ten minutes on his laptop reading up on Trident before coming in. The upscale security venture was founded in New York in 1996 by a shipping magnate named Dennis Laughton, who had been abducted and ransomed in the Philippines. Laughton first hired a former NYPD police commissioner to be his front man and had followed suit in every city where he opened a base, plucking a local chief or high-ranking commander from the local police department to make a media splash and secure the absolute must-have of local police cooperation. The word was that ten years ago Laughton had tried to hire L.A.’s police chief but was turned down and then went to Creighton as a second choice.

“I told your assistant I wasn’t interested in a job with Trident,” Bosch said. “She said it wasn’t about that. So why don’t you tell me what it is about so we can both get on with our days.”

“I can assure you, I am not offering you a job with Trident,” Creighton said. “To be honest, we must have full cooperation and respect from the LAPD to do what we do and to handle the delicate matters that involve our clients and the police. If we were to bring you in as a Trident associate, there could be a problem.”

“You’re talking about my lawsuit.”

“Exactly.”

For most of the past year Bosch had been in the middle of a protracted lawsuit against the department where he had worked for more than thirty years. He sued because he believed he had been illegally forced into retirement. The case had drawn ill will toward Bosch from within the ranks. It did not seem to matter that during his time with a badge he had brought more than a hundred murderers to justice. The lawsuit was settled but the hostility continued from some quarters of the department, mostly the quarter at the top.

“So if you brought me into Trident, that would not be good for your relations with the LAPD,” Bosch said. “I get that. But you want me for something. What is it?”

Creighton nodded. It was time to get down to it.

“Do you know the name Whitney Vance?” he asked.

Bosch nodded.

“Of course I do,” he said.

“Yes, well, he is a client,” Creighton said. “As is his company, Advance Engineering.”

“Whitney Vance has got to be eighty years old.”

“Eighty-five, actually. And...”

Creighton opened the top middle drawer of his desk and removed a document. He put it on the desk between them. Bosch could see it was a printed check with an attached stub. He wasn’t wearing his glasses and was unable to read the amount or the other details.

“He wants to speak to you,” Creighton finished.

“About what?” Bosch asked.

“I don’t know. He said it was a private matter and he specifically asked for you by name. He said he would discuss the matter only with you. He had this certified check drawn for ten thousand dollars. It is yours to keep for meeting him, whether or not the appointment leads to further work.”

Bosch didn’t know what to say. At the moment he was flush because of the lawsuit settlement, but he had put most of the money into long-term investment accounts designed to carry him comfortably into old age with a solid stake left over for his daughter. But at the moment she had two-plus years of college and then graduate school tuition ahead of her. She had some generous scholarships but he was still on the hook for the rest of it in the short term. There was no doubt in his mind that ten thousand dollars could be put to good use.

“When and where is this appointment going to be?” he finally said.

“Tomorrow morning at nine at Mr. Vance’s home in Pasadena,” Creighton said. “The address is on the check receipt. You might want to dress a little nicer than that.”

Bosch ignored the sartorial jab. From an inside jacket pocket he took out his eyeglasses. He put them on as he reached across the desk and took the check. It was made out to his full name, Hieronymus Bosch.

There was a perforated line running across the bottom of the check. Below it were the address and appointment time as well as the admonition “Don’t bring a firearm.” Bosch folded the check along the perforation and looked at Creighton as he put it into his jacket.

“I’m going to go to the bank from here,” he said. “I’ll deposit this, and if there is no problem, I’ll be there tomorrow.”

Creighton smirked.

“There will not be a problem.”

Bosch nodded.

“I guess that’s it, then,” he said.

He stood up to go.

“There is one more thing, Bosch,” Creighton said.

Bosch noted that he had dropped from first name to last name status with Creighton inside of ten minutes.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“I have no idea what the old man is going to ask you, but I’m very protective of him,” Creighton said. “He is more than a client and I don’t want to see him taken for a ride at this point in his life. Whatever the task is that he wants you to perform, I need to be in the loop.”

“A ride? Unless I missed something, you called me, Creighton. If anybody’s being taken for a ride, it will be me. It doesn’t matter how much he’s paying me.”

“I can assure you that’s not the case. The only ride is the ride out to Pasadena for which you just received ten thousand dollars.”

Bosch nodded.

“Good,” he said. “I’m going to hold you to that. I’ll see the old man tomorrow and find out what this is about. But if he becomes my client, then that business, whatever it is, will be between him and me. There won’t be any loop that includes you unless Vance tells me there is. That’s how I work. No matter who the client is.”

Bosch turned toward the door. When he got there he looked back at Creighton.

“Thanks for the view.”

He left and closed the door behind him.

On the way out he stopped at the receptionist’s desk and got his parking receipt validated. He wanted to be sure Creighton ate the twenty bucks for that, as well as the car wash he agreed to when he valeted the car.

 

 

(C) Michael Connelly 2016

 

 

© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.