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20 March 2023

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It was like a bag of popcorn cooking in a microwave. A few pops during the final countdown of the year and then the barrage as the frequency of gunfire made it impossible to separate it into individual discharges. A gunshot symphony. For a solid five minutes, there was an unbroken onslaught as revelers of the new year fired their weapons into the sky following a Los Angeles tradition of decades.

It didn't matter that what goes up must come down. Every new year in the City of Angels began with risk.

The gunfire of course was joined by legitimate fireworks and firecrackers, creating a sound unique to the city and as reliable through the years as the changing of the calendar. The over/under at roll call was eighteen in terms of calls related to the rain of lead. Windshields mostly would be the victims, though the year before, Ballard had caught a callout on a case in which a bullet fell through a skylight and hit a stripper on the shoulder as she was dancing on a stage below. The falling bullet didn't even break the skin. But a jagged piece of falling skylight glass did give a customer sitting close to the stage a new part in his hair. He chose not to make a police report, because it would reveal that where he was didn't match where he had told his family he would be.

Whatever the number of calls, patrol would handle most of them unless a detective was warranted. Ballard and Moore were mostly waiting for one call. The Midnight Men. It was a painful reality that sometimes you needed predators to strike again in hopes of a mistake or a new piece of evidence that could lead to a solve.

The Midnight Men was the unofficial moniker Ballard had bestowed on the tag team rapists who had assaulted two women in a five-week span. Both assaults had occurred on holiday nights - Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. The cases were linked by modus operandi, not DNA, because the Midnight Men were careful not to leave DNA behind. Each attack started shortly after midnight and lasted as long as four hours while the predators took turns assaulting women in their own beds, ending the torture by cutting off a large hank of each victim's hair with the knife that had been held to her throat during the terrifying ordeal. Other humiliations were included in the attacks and helped link the cases beyond the rarity of a two-man rape team.

Ballard, as the third-watch detective, had been the responding detective on both cases. She then handed the cases over to the day-watch detectives from the Hollywood Division Sexual Assault Unit. Lisa Moore was a member of that three- detective unit. Since Ballard worked the shift when the attacks had occurred, she was informally added to the team.

In past years, a pair of serial rapists would have immediately. drawn the attention of the Sex Crimes Unit that worked out of the Police Administration Building downtown as part of the elite Robbery-Homicide Division. But City Hall cutbacks in police funding had seen the unit disbanded, and sex assault cases were now handled by the divisional detective squads. It was an example of how protesters demanding the defunding of the police department had achieved their goal in an indirect way. The move to defund was turned away by the city's politicians, but the police department had burned through its budget in dealing with the protests that followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

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.