Cold Springs Page 24


“What about your necklace?”

Her hand crept up to her neck. “I don't—I left it . . .”

“You left it at Talia Montrose's house. It was found next to her body.”

“No. I was with Race. We came into the house, and his mother—she was lying on the . . .”

A tear made its way down her cheek. She brushed it away like it was coming from somewhere else—like an insect or rain.

“Time's up,” Olsen said.

“I'm going back to San Francisco,” Chadwick told Mallory. “Tell me where to find Race.”

“So you can turn him in?”

“So I can talk to him.”

Mallory moistened her lips, and Chadwick got the uncomfortable feeling she was deciding whether or not to lie.

“Mr. Chadwick,” Olsen said, her fingers covering the watch.

“His grandmother's,” Mallory said. “She lives in downtown Oakland, off 14th.”

“The police have already checked there.”

“Yeah. But that's where he'd go. That's the only place he could go.”

Mallory's eyes were intense green, just like her father's. “Make sure he's okay, Chadwick. He didn't do anything.”

Chadwick promised nothing, but he got the uncomfortable feeling he'd made an irretrievable bargain—one that cuffed him to the table more firmly than Mallory's plastic wrist restraint.

He looked at the hillside, where the deer had gone back to grazing. He wondered if the grass tasted any different on Thanksgiving.

“I'll do what I can,” Chadwick told her. “If you concentrate on the program.”

“I hate the program.”

“Start small.” He remembered the little girl who used to steal white meat as soon as it was carved, then go running, giggling wildly, through the house as her father pretended to chase her. “You like turkey. Eat some.”

Mallory looked at the plate of food, now cold. She picked up a half-moon of turkey, bit off a piece. She started to put the rest down, then changed her mind and took another bite.

Olsen said, “I'll cut your restraint. When you're done, we'll take you back to the Black Level barracks.”

As Mallory ate, Chadwick motioned to Olsen. She followed him as far as the sliding glass doors.

“She's hiding something,” he said.

Olsen crossed her arms, the shoulder bandage crinkling under her jacket. The skin around her eyes tightened. “The girl's whole life, people have betrayed her—Katherine, you, her parents. Now she's wondering if Race has lied to her, too. Of course she's hiding something.”

“You don't approve of me talking to her.”

“Your priorities are wrong. You're more interested in torturing yourself about your daughter than helping Mallory.”

He felt anger building in his stomach, but mostly because he was afraid she was right.

“You're making progress with her,” he said. “I'm impressed.”

“You know why? I told her I'm not leaving, no matter what. She can't push me away. I learned that from you.”

She looked nothing like the young woman who had been so afraid at the Rockridge café. There was determination in her eyes, absolute conviction that she was going to help this kid. Chadwick remembered why he had chosen her as a partner in the first place—she had a good heart. Heart wasn't something you could fake. It wasn't something you could train for. And it wasn't something she had learned from him.

“Watch out for her,” he said.

“She stabbed me. Of course I'll watch out.”

“No. I mean, keep her safe.”

“You're worried about somebody coming after her? Is that what you're talking about?”

“I don't know. It's just a feeling.”

She looked back at Mallory, but seemed to be looking through her—straight into the past.

“I'll stick by her,” she promised. “That's my job.”

Chadwick knew she didn't mean it as an accusation, but he remembered her words the day she'd quit—that his job was a form of perpetually running away. He felt the same wistful resentment he'd felt on the plane, when the flight attendant had assumed they were father and daughter. “You identify with her.”

“Yes.”

“I remind you of someone, too, don't I? Not a good memory. That's really why you couldn't work with me.”

She said nothing.

“Can I ask who it was?”

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“You could,” she said, “except for two things.”

“What?”

“I told you your priorities are screwed up. I can't very well admit that maybe mine are, too.”

“What's the other reason?”

She raised her eyebrow, as if that should be obvious. She tapped her wristwatch. “Your time is up.”

She walked back to the picnic table, where Mallory Zedman was eating a cold Thanksgiving dinner in the fading afternoon light.

12

On Monday, Chadwick and Kindra Jones took a flight to Boston. They picked up a thirteen-year-old who'd been expelled from his middle school for dealing Ecstasy and flew him to the Green Mesa facility in North Carolina. An easy job. The kid knew it was either Dr. Hunter or Juvenile Hall.

Jones had dressed in another corduroy and flannel montage, her freshly braided cornrows glistening with styler. She spent the plane trip arguing with the kid about whether Lauryn Hill or Dr. Dre was the bigger musical genius. Chadwick, who had no opinion, read two chapters of a Theodore Roosevelt biography.

He called John Zedman from Raleigh-Durham International and got voice mail. He left a message, telling John he was coming to town and wanted to meet.

He called Laurel Heights and got the secretary, who told him Ann was in a meeting with Ms. Reyes—no interruptions.

Tuesday morning, he and Jones transferred a gray level who'd been diagnosed anorexic to Bowl Ranch in Utah. Again, Jones fell into easy conversation with the kid, this time about the death of reality television. Between flights at DFW, Chadwick called both the Zedmans and failed to get them. On the last call to John's house, a man with a slight Spanish accent answered the phone.

Chadwick gave his name, and the man was silent so long Chadwick thought he'd hung up.

Finally the man said, “This is Emilio Pérez. Let me give you some advice.”

“I'd rather you put your boss on the phone.”

“You come out here, you'd best be returning the girl.”

“That's not open for discussion, Mr. Pérez.”

“Mr. Z? He remembers how you used to be a friend—only reason he hasn't let me hang you on a meat hook yet. Me? I got no sentimental problems. I know what you are. I know your game. You show your face, I'm going to make Talia Montrose's murder look like a quiet death.”

The line went dead.

Kindra Jones came back from the TCBY, handed him a cup of yogurt with rainbow sprinkles and a pink plastic spoon.

“Got chocolate for me and the kid,” she said. “Figured you for a vanilla man.”

Wednesday evening at Bowl Ranch, Chadwick stared out the lodge window at miles of red sandstone—rock formations and stunted junipers marbled with snow like a Martian Christmas.

He thought about Mallory Zedman on the porch at Cold Springs.

He heard Olsen's voice in his mind—Olsen, whom he'd accused of running away from her fear.

From the moment he turned the first shovelful of dirt onto Katherine's coffin lid, Chadwick had known he would be moving to Texas. He would devote his life to pulling troubled kids out of crises, rewriting his failure with his daughter, over and over again. He told himself the job had been hard penance. In the years since, he had seen his share of suicides. He had been shot at, spit at, cursed and sued by the very parents who hired him. He had changed lives, delivered a lot of kids into Hunter's care.

But emotionally, escorting was safe—a brief, scripted performance where success was easy to measure, not much different than his history classes at Laurel Heights, or the way his own father had dealt with children—as appointments, gears to be oiled, chains to be balanced, with care and skill, but no particular emotional attachment. Chadwick could help kids on that level. He could do it brilliantly.

But when it came to permanent commitment—living with a child, letting her see you warts and all, unscripted and stumbling and unsure, staying with her no matter what, whether she screamed or stabbed or turned away—Chadwick had never been good at that, even with Katherine. Especially with Katherine. He had failed his daughter. And nothing he had done in the nine years since—not all the escorts he had made, all the children he had pulled from horrible situations—atoned for that.

The next morning, when they got to the San Francisco rental car counter, Chadwick asked Jones if she was up for a little sightseeing.

She gave him an easy grin. “Noticed you got us in here on the earliest possible flight, and the pickup isn't until tonight.”

“A few courtesy calls.”

“Uh-huh. You want to tell me what about?”

“Preferably not.”

She lifted the car keys from his hand. “In that case, I'm driving.”

At first, Chadwick was impressed by Jones' command of the terrible Bay Area traffic. After a few blocks, he realized Jones was the reason for the terrible traffic. Curbs were loose guidelines for her. So were sidewalks, pedestrians, traffic lights, medians, other people's bumpers.

After twenty minutes of death sport on Highway 101, then weaving through downtown playing kill-tag with the bike couriers, Jones found an open stretch of Van Ness and shot north. She fishtailed onto California, sent coffee-toting students and medical workers diving for cover, and slammed the car into fourth gear for the final half mile.

“This is it,” Chadwick warned. “This is it. That was it.”

Jones swerved onto Walnut, pulling over a red curb and crunching into a trash can two doors down from Laurel Heights.

Chadwick exhaled for the first time in a mile and a half. “You hardly killed anyone.”

“Just jealous,” she said. Then she pointed with her chin. “What's going on over there?”

Half a block up, across the street, a local CBS satellite news van was cranked for business. The reporter's back was to them, the cameraman filming in their direction. The backdrop for their news spot was Laurel Heights School.

A cold feeling started to build in Chadwick's chest.

The auction would be tomorrow—the first Friday after Thanksgiving. Maybe Ann had arranged some publicity. But the thermometer banner that had hung in front of the school was gone. It didn't seem right they would take that down before the final fund-raiser, especially with the press coming.

Jones slid down her black horn-rims, checked out Laurel Heights, tall and cozy on its hill. “That's your old school, huh? Think they could afford a paint job in a neighborhood this snooty.”

“You want to come in?”

“And do what—talk to the custodians?” Kindra leaned back in the driver's seat, propped open an April Sinclair novel on the wheel. “No thanks, Chad.”

Before he could respond to the unwelcome nickname, he saw Norma hurrying down the steps of the school. From the stiffness of her shoulders, the way she held her rolled-up newspaper, Chadwick knew she'd been arguing with someone.

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