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20 March 2023

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It was supposed to rain for real and that would have put a damper on the annual rain of lead. But the forecast was wrong. The sky was blue-black and clear. And Renée Ballard braced for the onslaught, positioning herself on the north side of the division under the shelter of the Cahuenga overpass. She would have preferred being alone but was riding with a partner, and a reluctant partner at that. Detective Lisa Moore of the Hollywood Division Sexual Assault Unit was a day-shift veteran who just wanted to be home with her boyfriend. But it was always all hands on deck on New Year's Eve. Tactical alert: everyone in the department in uniform and working twelves. Ballard and Moore had been working since 6 p.m. and it had been quiet. But it was now about to strike midnight on the last day of the year and the trouble would begin. Added to that, the Midnight Men were out there somewhere. Ballard and her reluctant partner needed to be ready to move quickly when the call came in.

"Do we have to stay here?" Moore asked. "I mean, look at these people. How can they live like this?"

Ballard surveyed the makeshift shelters made of discarded tarps and construction debris that lined both sides of the underpass. She saw a couple of Sterno cook fires and people milling about at their meager encampments. It was so crowded that some shanties were even pressed up against the mobile toilets the city had put on the sidewalks to preserve some semblance of dignity and sanitation in the area. North of the overpass was a residential zone of apartments fronting the hillside area known as the Dell. After multiple reports of people defecating in the streets and yards of the neighborhood, the city came through with the portable toilets. A humanitarian effort, it was called.

"You ask that like you think they all want to be living under an overpass," Ballard said. "Like they have a lot of choices. Where are they going to go? The government gives them toilets. It takes their shit away but not much else."

"Whatever," Moore said. "It's such a blight - every overpass in the fucking city. It's so third world. People are going to start leaving the city because of this."

"They already have," Ballard said. "Anyway, we're staying here. I've spent the last four New Year's Eves under here and it's the safest place to be when the shooting starts."

They were quiet for a few moments after that. Ballard had thought about leaving herself, maybe going back to Hawaii. It wasn't because of the intractable problem of homelessness that gripped Los Angeles. It was everything. The city, the job, the life. It had been a bad year with the pandemic and social unrest and violence. The police department had been vilified, and she along with it. She'd been spat on, figuratively and literally, by the people she thought she stood for and protected. It was a hard lesson, and a sense of futility had set upon her and was deep in the marrow now. She needed some kind of a break. Maybe to go track down her mother in the mountains of Maui and try to reconnect after so many years.

She took one of her hands off the wheel and held her sleeve to her nose. It was her first time back in uniform since the protests. She could make out the smell of tear gas. She had dry-cleaned the uniform twice but the odor was baked in, permanent. It was a strong reminder of the year that had been.

More Books by The Orion Publishing Group

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Articles
The Dark Hours
4.5
A brazen and methodical killer strikes on New Year’s Eve and LAPD Detective Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch must join forces to find justice for the victim in a city scarred by fear and social unrest, in the new thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author Michael Connelly. There’s chaos in Hollywood at the end of the New Year’s Eve countdown. Working her graveyard shift, LAPD Detective Renée Ballard waits out the traditional rain of lead as hundreds of revelers shoot their guns into the air. Only minutes after midnight, Ballard is called to a scene where a hardworking auto shop owner has been fatally hit by a bullet in the middle of a crowded street party. Ballard quickly concludes that the deadly bullet could not have fallen from the sky and that it is linked to another unsolved murder—a case at one time worked by Detective Harry Bosch. At the same time, Ballard hunts a fiendish pair of serial rapists, the Midnight Men, who have been terrorizing women and leaving no trace. Determined to solve both cases, Ballard feels like she is constantly running uphill in a police department indelibly changed by the pandemic and recent social unrest. It is a department so hampered by inertia and low morale that Ballard must go outside to the one detective she can count on: Harry Bosch. But as the two inexorable detectives work together to find out where old and new cases intersect, they must constantly look over their shoulders. The brutal predators they are tracking are ready to kill to keep their secrets hidden.