Cold Springs Page 10


He should've seen this coming—Ann's revenge for him challenging the custody arrangement again. While he was busy trying to save their daughter, all Ann could think about was hurting him.

“Chadwick.” Damarodas wrote the name in his notepad, stared down at it. “Well, damn.”

“Sergeant?”

Damarodas closed his notepad. “Unfortunate timing, your wife sending your daughter out of state. You knew nothing about this?”

“That's another question Mr. Zedman has already answered,” Detective Prost said. “I think it's time we left.”

Damarodas picked up his coffee, took a sip, then set it carefully back on the table. “I appreciate your openness, sir. I'll be in touch.”

The two cops walked through the entry hall, Damarodas scanning the art prints with a look of mild consternation, as if wondering which of them were done by professional artists, which by six-year-olds. John realized the sergeant's unimpressive demeanor was a weapon—he came into your house and infected it, made everything there seem as meaningless as his smile or the color of his cheap suit.

Damarodas gave him one more appraising look from the porch, then tapped his fingers against the golden oak door frame, as if wondering if the wood were real.

It wasn't the first time Pérez had watched his boss go crazy.

Zedman cursed the hills. He shattered the coffee cup the policeman had been drinking from. He threw a $300 piece of pottery at his quilt and cracked the glass.

Then he started weeping. He touched the broken glass, like he wanted to caress the quilt panels—the fading stick figures, the peeling scraps of felt.

Pérez didn't know what to do for him.

He imagined writing to his estranged wife back home in Monterrey—Dear Rosa, These americanos are locos. He never actually wrote her, but thinking about it made him feel better.

He had been with Mr. Zedman for five years, since just before the Boss got divorced. The pay was good, the work easy. He'd never fired his gun, never protected Mr. Z from anything worse than panhandlers.

Then a month ago, out of the blue, Mr. Z told him about the letters.

He wouldn't say how long they'd been coming, or what the demands were, or what leverage the blackmailer had, but Pérez understood it had been going on a long time, it was ugly enough to ruin Mr. Z, and Mr. Z, for some reason, was convinced the Montroses were behind it.

That was why no matter how much he hated that kid Race, or how close Race got to Mallory, Mr. Z wouldn't let Pérez touch him. The Boss put up with them messing around together. He endured the bad stories Ms. Reyes would bring him from his ex-wife's school. And the more Mallory flaunted her punk boyfriend in her father's face, the more Mr. Z drank, yelled at Pérez, bit his nails and slammed things around in the middle of the night. Finally, after Mallory's visit three weeks ago, Mr. Z had found a hypodermic needle in her bedroom. That sent him ape-shit over-the-top crazy. He sat down with Pérez and explained a game plan—not the one Pérez wanted, the simple, violent kind, but a plan to end the blackmail “peacefully, to everybody's satisfaction, once and for all.”

The whole idea had pained Pérez. A quarter of a million dollars. For what—silence? Peace of mind?

A bullet cost seventy-five cents.

He remembered Talia Montrose in the Starbucks—that piece-of-shit whore, could barely keep from drooling at the satchel full of money. Pérez had told the Boss it was a bad idea. You didn't make people like Talia go away with money. Pérez hadn't been convinced she was even the blackmailer. She didn't have the look.

And now—Mr. Z had fucked up. He'd paid off the wrong person. Another letter had come, and just from Mr. Z's attitude, Pérez could tell the stakes had shot up. The police were asking about Talia Montrose's murder. Mallory had gotten herself abducted. Shit, if John Zedman was a number, he'd be a big red thirteen.

But maybe it was all a blessing in disguise. Maybe the Boss would finally get smart.

Pérez came up behind Mr. Z, waited for him to cry himself out. Mr. Z had cut his finger on the broken glass of the quilt frame, and was pressing it into the tail of his dress shirt.

“Let me help, Boss,” Pérez said.

Mr. Z stared at him, his eyes glassy. “My daughter's been taken away, Emilio. Do you know what that means? Do you know what the police will think?”

“We'll get her back,” Pérez said.

“It wasn't supposed to get out of hand. I just want my daughter safe, Emilio. That's all I've ever wanted.”

“I know that. So what are you paying me for—driving?”

The Boss wiped his face. He took a long few minutes putting himself back together. “What do you suggest?”

Pérez watched a thin line of Mr. Z's blood trickling down the glass, streaking the face of a kindergarten stick figure.

He felt like that quilt—something useful stuck in a display case, gathering dust. What was a little blood if it meant breaking the glass once and for all?

“For starters,” Pérez said. “Who the fuck is Chadwick?”

4

“Where are you going?” Olsen asked. “The airport was that way.”

She leaned forward from the back seat, her fingers gripping the top of the headrest like she wanted to rip a chunk out of it.

Chadwick took the Ninth Street exit, drove west into downtown. “I need to talk to her mom.”

“Our flight.”

“We have time.”

“This is against policy, isn't it? You told me that, didn't you?”

Chadwick zigzagged across the intersection at Market. The streets glowed with fog and neon, the crosswalks swarming with Friday night crowds—commuters and prostitutes, transients and tourists, like schools of hungry fish mixing together.

“Hey!” Mallory shouted, pounding on the window, kicking the back of Chadwick's seat with her bound feet. “Hey, hey!”

Chadwick couldn't see what she was doing—probably showing off her handcuffs to somebody on the street. Someone she recognized. Or a policeman. There were few escape tactics Chadwick hadn't seen in his years as an escort.

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Olsen was right. He shouldn't be doing this. They had all the papers signed. The plane left in two hours. There was no reason to torture himself, or Mallory, by visiting the school, seeing Ann in person. The whole idea of escorting was to remove the child from her environment as quickly and cleanly as possible. No detours. No stops on Memory Lane.

But Race Montrose's face stayed with him—that rust-colored hair, the lightning bolt jaw, the amber eyes. The more he envisioned that face, the more he wanted to punch it again.

He took Divisadero north, then California west, into the quieter streets of Pacific Heights. The night closed around them, making a deep purple aurora along the tops of the eucalyptus trees. Chadwick turned on Walnut and pulled in front of Laurel Heights School.

He had expected the place to look different, thanks to Ann's construction plans, but the outside was unchanged—redwood walls covered in ivy, peeling green trim, mossy stone chimney. From the roof of the school hung a long yellow banner—OUR CHILDREN'S DREAMS——MAKE THEM HAPPEN! A thermometer showed $30 million as the top temperature, the mercury painted red up to $27 million. Apparently, fund-raising had gone a little slower than expected.

Chadwick cut the engine. He turned to Mallory. “Tell me about Race.”

“Screw yourself,” Mallory said, but her heart wasn't in it. She had worn herself out screaming and kicking all the way across the Bay Bridge.

“He was your classmate,” Chadwick told her. “Your mother allowed him to go here.”

“You sound like my fucking father. Race made better grades than I did, Chadwick. Get over it.”

“You understand why I'm asking?”

Braids of her black-dyed hair had fallen in her face, so she seemed to glare at him through a cage of licorice. “Stop messing with me, okay? I know why you're here. This is some kind of chickenshit revenge for Katherine.”

“I'm here to help you.”

“Bullshit.”

Chadwick felt Olsen's eyes on him.

He stared up at the schoolhouse, butcher paper paintings hung along the fence to dry—a chain of smiling people in every skin color, including purple and green. “Mallory, why'd you run away?”

“My mom's a bitch. She found a gun in Race's locker.”

“Same gun he pointed at me today?”

“Fuck, no. They confiscated the one in his locker. Today was a different gun.”

“I see,” Chadwick said. “Another from his collection.”

Mallory shrugged, like that should be obvious. “My mom expelled him. Told me I couldn't see him anymore.”

“And you thought that was what—too harsh?”

“She had no right to look in his locker in the first place, or punish him, or anything. Race needs a gun.”

“Why?”

She was shivering now. Heroin withdrawal pains, probably getting worse.

“Look, just let me go in and talk to her, okay?” She moderated her tone—going for the calm approach. Adults are idiots—speak to them softly. “I guess I got a little crazy on her. I'll apologize.”

“You attacked her with a hammer. You ran away to Race's house.”

“I didn't hurt anybody, okay? Neither did Race. I'm not going to a school for mental cases.”

“What happened to Race's mom?”

Her eyes slid away from his. “We— We didn't do shit. We were out all night, came back in the morning, and we just opened the door . . . And . . .”

Her voice broke. She brought her palms up into the light, as if looking for a reminder she might've written on her skin.

“Don't protect him,” Chadwick said. “Race is a drug dealer. His whole family is toxic.”

“He's not a goddamn dealer.”

Chadwick fanned the stack of money that had spilled from Mallory's coat pocket—$630 in crisp new bills. “Where'd you get the cash, Mallory?”

She twisted her wrists against the plastic cuffs. “Just keep it. All right, Chadwick? Keep it and let me go. Nobody has to know.”

He looked at Olsen. With her blond buzz cut and her denim, the tight set of her mouth, she could've passed for Mallory's peer. But there was fear in her eyes—a bright emptiness that had blossomed the moment Race Montrose pointed his gun at Chadwick's chest.

“I'll make this brief,” he promised.

“Hey,” she murmured. “Wait—”

He got out of the car, Olsen leaning across the roof, protesting. “Chadwick, what the hell . . .”

“Just a few minutes.”

“Mallory . . .”

“She'll be all right.”

“So what am I supposed to do?”

Chadwick heard the edge of panic in her voice. He wanted to reassure her. He wanted to warn her that Mallory could smell her nervousness like a piranha smells blood. But he couldn't say any of that—not with Mallory there.

“She's cuffed,” he said. “Just lock the doors, wait for me.”

“Who the hell is Katherine?”

He left her staring over the top of the car, her fingers splayed across the black metal, grasping at the reflection of the street lamp.

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