The Narrows (Harry Bosch #10) by Michael Connelly

1

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.

“Tell me.”

“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?”

“Too early.”

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.

“Cherie?”

“What?”

“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.

2

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.”

I nodded.

“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.”

3

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.

“Tell me.”

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.”

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