Nine Dragons Photo:
Original full-length version published by The Orion Publishing Group
Condensed version © copyright Reader’s Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd 2010
Detective Harry Bosch has come to the Scientific Investigation Division with a piece of evidence he would rather not see again: Triad members in Hong Kong are threatening Harry’s daughter, and have sent a video to convince him to stop pursuing their cohorts in Los Angeles.
SID veteran Barbara Starkey downloaded the video. Soon she had it playing on the left screen. Harry looked at the images of his daughter and tried hard to stay focused.
‘I’m so sorry, Harry,’ Starkey said.
‘I know. Let’s not talk about it.’
On the screen, Maddie Bosch, thirteen years old, sat tied to a chair. A gag made of bright-red cloth cut tightly across her mouth. She wore her school uniform, a blue plaid skirt and white blouse with the school crest above the left breast. She looked at the camera—presumably her own cellphone camera—with eyes that tore Bosch’s heart out. Desperate and scared were only the first words of description that went through his mind.
There was no sound, or rather no one said anything at first on the video. For fifteen seconds the camera held on her. She was simply on display for him. Then the person behind the camera reached into the frame and pulled the gag temporarily loose from Maddie’s mouth.
The gag was immediately replaced, muffling what was yelled after that single word and leaving Bosch unable to interpret it.
The hand then dropped down in an attempt to fondle one of the girl’s breasts. She reacted violently, shifting sideways in her bindings and kicking her left leg up at the outstretched arm. The video frame momentarily swung out of control and then was brought back to Maddie. For the last five seconds of video the camera just held on her. The screen then went black.
Starkey didn’t respond at first. Keeping any nonprofessional response out of her face, she put both her hands on an editing deck attached to the computer’s keyboard.
‘Harry, I’m going to go through this frame by frame but it’s going to take some time,’ she said. ‘I’ll call you the moment I find anything. Trust me, Harry. I know she’s your daughter.’
Bosch nodded. He knew he had to let Starkey work without breathing down her neck. It would bring the best results.
‘OK. Can we just take a look at the kick and then I’ll leave you to it? He moved the camera when she kicked at him and there was a flash of light. Like a window.’
Starkey rolled the video back. In real time at that point it had been a blur of sudden movement followed by a quick correction back to the girl. But now in stop-action of frame-by-frame playback, Bosch saw that the camera had momentarily swept left across a room to a window, and then back.
‘You’re good, Harry,’ Starkey said. ‘We may have something here.’
Bosch bent down to look over her shoulder and get closer. Starkey backed up the video and rolled it slowly forward again.
The room appeared to be a low-rent hotel room with a single bed and a table and lamp directly behind the chair Maddie was tied to. The wall over the bed was pockmarked with holes left by nails used to hold up wall hangings. The pictures had possibly been removed to make the location harder to identify.
Starkey backed the video up to the window and then froze it there. It was a vertical window with a single pane that had been cranked open in full outward extension and in the glass was a reflection of an urban cityscape.
‘Where do you think this is, Harry?’
‘Hong Kong. She lives there with her mother. Can you make that part bigger?’ Bosch asked.
Using the mouse, Starkey outlined the window and then moved a copy of that part of the video over to the second screen. She increased its size and then went through some focusing manoeuvres.
‘We don’t have the pixels, Harry, so if I run a program that sort of fills in what we don’t have, we can kind of sharpen it. Maybe you’ll recognise something in the reflection.’
The first thing Bosch noted was that the location of the room was up high. The reflection showed a channel down a city street from at least ten storeys up, he judged. He could see the sides of buildings lining the street and the edge of a large billboard or building sign with the English letters N-O. There was also a collage of street-level signs with Chinese characters.
Beyond this Bosch could see tall buildings in the distance. He recognised one by the two white spires on the roof. The twin radio antennas were braced by a crossbar and the configuration always reminded Bosch of American football goalposts. Outlining the buildings was a mountain ridge line broken only by a structure that had a bowl shape supported by two thick columns.
‘Is this helping, Harry?’
‘Yeah, yeah, definitely. This has to be Kowloon …’
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