Cold Springs Page 15


No, Mallory told herself. Just survive. Just get out.

And so she marched, the man with the body bag screaming in her peripheral vision, as if he'd always been there, waiting for her to step in the wrong direction.

7

Another week of pickups—New York, Utah, St. Louis, Belize. Chadwick chased a boy across a rooftop, collared him at the TV aerials, and dragged him down five flights of stairs by the scruff of his neck. He pulled a girl out of an underage prostitution ring after breaking a two-by-four over her pimp's head with a little too much relish.

Olsen did her job with quiet efficiency. She related well to the kids, treated them with the right mix of respect and firmness. She had no more nervous moments, betrayed no further scent of fear. She performed better than most of the young women he'd trained that year—always women, since Hunter's rules stipulated a male and female escort must work together on every assignment—but the whole week, she said maybe a dozen sentences off-duty. He could feel her slipping away, withdrawing from the job, just like so many others.

The dropout rate for new escorts was eighty percent. The work was just too intense. It didn't take long for the rookie to hit a job that really unnerved her—a situation that resonated in her nightmares like a diminished chord. For Olsen, for whatever reason, it had been the Mallory Zedman pickup.

They got back to Texas late Friday night.

Saturday morning, after four hours' sleep, Chadwick was sitting on the deck of the Big Lodge, proctoring a White Level study hall. He had his cell phone in his hand, tapping his thumb lightly on the numbers.

At the picnic tables behind him, a dozen white levels were bent to their work—writing essays, studying for AP exams or SATs.

The morning was crisp and cool as the underside of a pillow, the sky scratched with high winter clouds, sunlight gilding the hills and the wings of redtail hawks. The white levels didn't seem to notice. They labored so quietly that a family of deer had gathered to graze the hillside not a hundred yards away.

The last year of his marriage, living in San Francisco, Chadwick had often fantasized about the Texas Hill Country. He had imagined starting every day here, teaching kids in this setting, reinventing young lives. Now here he was, thinking only about San Francisco.

He closed his eyes and concentrated on 1994, the year he'd started escorting.

Whenever the hot empty feeling started burning in his stomach, whenever he felt like kicking down a brick wall, it calmed him to calculate backwards through history, jumping from event to event like stepping stones, making a continuous line into the past. He could do it with centuries, or millennia, any measurement larger than his own life.

1894. Eugene Debs and the railway boycotts.

1794. Jay's Treaty.

1694 . . .

He took a deep breath, turned on his phone, then dialed a number he'd never forgotten.

He circumnavigated a few secretaries at Zedman Development, gave them his name, told them he had news about Mr. Zedman's daughter.

When John finally came on the line, his voice was tight and familiar, as if Chadwick had just called five minutes before. “Well?”

“Mallory's safe.”

“You call me now. You steal my daughter, and a week later you call. Your timing sucks, old buddy.”

He was trying hard to sound callous, but Chadwick heard the emotion cracking through. He wondered if John missed their arguments about basketball and politics; if he found himself wondering how Chadwick had spent the millennial New Year's, or whether he could get through Thanksgiving without thinking of the way they used to spend it together—their two families, now irrevocably shattered.

“I didn't know about Race Montrose,” Chadwick said. “I didn't know about the murder.”

“And what—you want to apologize?”

“We need to talk about this, John.”

“I'll only ask you once. Bring back my daughter.”

“She's better off here. She needs help.”

“Goodbye, Chadwick.”

“Race Montrose brought a gun to Laurel Heights. Mallory said he needed protection. Did you threaten him?”

“I tried not to blame you, Chadwick. And then you take my daughter without asking, without even warning me. You know what? Fuck it. It is all your fault. Katherine's death, my wife leaving me, my daughter turning against me—that's all on you.”

“I'm not your enemy, John.”

“Yeah? Tell me you've been getting the letters, Chadwick. Tell me you've been living with it the way I have.”

“Letters.”

John's laugh was strained. “That's good, old buddy. I'm sure Samuel is laughing—fucking laughing his ass off.”

“John—”

But he was talking to dead air.

Chadwick stared at the phone, the little LCD message asking if he wanted to save the number to his address book for easy redial. Just what he needed—a moral dilemma from his cell phone. Chadwick punched yes.

He made the rounds among the students, flexing his fingers, which suddenly felt frostbitten. The white levels were all on task—no questions. No problems. Nobody needed to go to the bathroom.

Chadwick moved his chair a little farther away on the deck, then placed another call—to Pegeen Riley, a woman he'd worked with before at Alameda County Social Services.

After five minutes with her, he tried the Oakland Police Department, Homicide Section. He watched the deer graze until Sergeant Damarodas came to the phone.

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“Well, Mr. Chadwick. Imagine my surprise.” The homicide investigator's voice reminded Chadwick of a drill instructor he'd had at Lackland Air Force Base, a bulldog of a man who'd sing German drinking songs while the BTs dug trenches.

“Sergeant,” Chadwick said. “Pegeen Riley from Social Services says you're in charge—”

“Yeah. She just called. Good woman, Peg. I'll be honest, Mr. Chadwick. Without her recommendation, I'm not sure you'd be on my Christmas card list.”

“About Mallory Zedman—”

“You transported a material witness out of state. Pegeen says you used to be a teacher. You'd think a teacher would have better sense.”

Chadwick tried to read the man's voice. There was something besides annoyance—a wariness Chadwick didn't quite understand.

“Listen, Sergeant, Mrs. Zedman is a worried mother. She's trying to do the best thing for her daughter.”

“I've got another mother I'm worried about. Her name was Talia Montrose. She's got thirty-two stab wounds.”

The wind rose. On the hillside, a thousand grasshoppers lifted from the grass and whirled like smoke over red granite.

“Sergeant, how much do you know about the Montrose family?”

“Enough to piss me off,” Damarodas said. “I know the lady had six kids, maybe seven, depending on which neighbor you talk to. Not one of them's come to ID her body. I know the victim's mother is a head case, lives in a condemned building downtown, reacted to her daughter's death by asking me if I'd ever been off the planet. I know the youngest kid, Race, was sharing a sleeping bag with your little angel Mallory at his mom's house the week of the murder. Then your worried friend Mrs. Zedman paid God-knows-how-much money to have her daughter picked up and smuggled to your fine facility. What am I missing, Mr. Chadwick?”

“The girl says she and Race were at a Halloween party. They came home, found the body, called 911.”

“And then they ran.”

“They're fifteen-year-olds. They panicked.”

“You want to explain why the 911 call came from a pay phone on Broadway, halfway across town? They were calm enough to get away from the scene before they called. The girl's voice on the tape—she'd practiced what she was going to say, Mr. Chadwick. How about you put her on the phone?”

“Not possible.”

“Talia Montrose's house? Blood everywhere. Looked like a damn sprinkler went off. Wounds caused by a short, bladed object, six, maybe seven inches long. Fingerprints all over the crime scene. Blood samples. Hair samples. We'll get it all back from the lab in a day or so. In the meantime, I can tell you we're pretty sure Race and Mallory were the only ones staying at the house. Talia was staying with a boyfriend, getting ready to skip town, probably came home to tell Race hasta la vista. We think she had upward of twenty thousand cash on her person when she was killed. Except for a few bills stuck in the blood, all that money is gone.”

Chadwick thought about the $630 he'd taken from Mallory's coat pocket—fresh new bills. “The Montroses aren't saints. Run the last name. Take a look at her kids. The oldest son—Samuel. He'd be an adult now.”

“What would I find, Mr. Chadwick?”

Something in Damarodas' tone made Chadwick's scalp tingle. The detective was playing him, flashing a lure.

“All I'm saying, Sergeant— Mallory Zedman didn't bring trouble to that family. I don't believe she would get herself involved in a murder.”

“Last week? I arrested a seventy-two-year-old grandmother, kept her dead boyfriend in a freezer, five different pieces wrapped in aluminum foil, so she could collect his Social Security checks. I didn't believe she'd be involved in a murder, either. I intend to fly down there and ask Mallory Zedman some questions.”

“Cold Springs is a closed program. No exceptions.”

“This is a homicide investigation, Mr. Chadwick. I've requested a court order from Alameda County.”

“I wouldn't go that route, Sergeant. Dr. Hunter's lawyers have had a lot of practice. They'll turn your court order into trench warfare.”

Chadwick watched the sunrise creep over the hill, melting the shadows from the hooves of the deer.

Finally Damarodas sighed. “Perhaps there's another thing you could help me with, Mr. Chadwick.”

“Sergeant?”

“Something we found near Mrs. Montrose's body. Kind of an odd piece of jewelry to be stuck in the woman's blood.”

Chadwick felt a distant rumble, like a train ripping through a dark tunnel.

“A silver necklace,” Damarodas told him. “An inscription on it. I bet you can't guess.”

The morning seemed colder—the air thickening, swirling to a standstill.

“What was your daughter's name, sir?” Damarodas asked. “Was it Katherine Elise?”

Chadwick took the phone away from his ear, knowing it was the wrong thing to do. Don't run away from this conversation. Don't hang up.

He heard Damarodas say, “Sir?”

Then Chadwick disconnected.

He wasn't sure how long he sat there, watching the deer graze the hilltop, before Asa Hunter came out to join him.

Hunter hooked a chair, pulled it up next to Chadwick's. “That bad, huh?”

“What?”

Hunter propped his combat boots on the railing, laced his fingers around his coffee cup. “You look like hell, amigo.”

“Blame my boss. He works me too hard.”

Hunter gave him the same skeptical appraisal he'd been giving him since they were both eighteen, working perimeter guard duty in Korat, Thailand. His expression posed the rhetorical question, Where'd this big dumb white boy come from?

“Listen, amigo, if I thought picking up Mallory Zedman would make you feel worse rather than better—”

“How is she doing?”

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