Cold Springs Page 27


David took a last puff on his, then flicked it, smoldering, into the dusty millers. “I suppose I'm out of a job, sir? Is that what Ann said?”

“Don't do that.”

He knitted his eyebrows. “You mean smoke?”

“Don't call me ‘sir.' Kindra, would you start the car, please?”

“Whoa, Chad. Somebody piss on your Roosevelt biography?”

He looked at her.

“I'll start the car,” she decided. “Man, you got to lighten up.”

Chadwick reached into the dusty millers and retrieved the cigarette butt. He pinched it dead and tossed it into David's lap.

David looked a little worse for wear than when Chadwick saw him three weeks ago—like he'd been stuffed in an overhead compartment on an international flight. Still, he gave Chadwick the same reverent look, the sad eyes of an unrequited admirer. “Sir, did I do something to offend you?”

Chadwick mentally counted to five before answering. “David, did you have access to the Laurel Heights accounts?”

“No, sir. I just made alumni phone calls. I coordinated the auction—of course they'll cancel it now, but I coordinated the donations. I didn't have access to the money.”

Chadwick remembered David at the auction nine years ago—a gawky teenager with a raging case of zits, waving his red flag to mark the high bidders.

“You still live in the East Bay?”

“Yes, sir. I've got a place in Berkeley. My parents', really, but they make me pay rent.”

“Your name came up in '93, when the police were looking into Katherine's death,” Chadwick told him. “I suppose you know that.”

David's ears and neck turned bright red. “Like I told you—I wanted to write—”

“You introduced Katherine to Samuel Montrose. You took her there to buy drugs from him. After she broke up with you, you knew she was seeing him, getting hooked on heroin, talking about running away. And you said nothing.”

David rubbed his finger in the ashes on his shirttail.

“I took her there once,” he said, his voice tighter now. “That's all. I never went back. You can't make me feel guiltier than I already do.”

“Seen Samuel recently?”

That got his attention. Chadwick couldn't quite read the look in his eyes—apprehension? Fear?

“No,” he said. “Of course not. Not for years. If I had—”

“You would've told someone. You're awfully anxious to be helpful, David. You called Sergeant Damarodas and told him all about my daughter—gave him the connection between my family and the Montroses. You called the media about the embezzlement.”

“What? I didn't—”

“Must've called the papers yesterday afternoon,” Chadwick said, “before Norma even notified the board, just to make sure it made this morning's paper.”

David's face became darker, harder, as if invisible hands had decided to remold it. Chadwick had seen this often with kids he picked up for escort—a sudden chemical change for battle mode, the moment they realized Chadwick couldn't be convinced or conned into letting them go.

“You know what?” David said. “I should've left this place years ago, but I kept fucking coming back. This school failed Katherine. You failed her. When I talked about writing you a letter? That's what I wanted to put in it. I hope the banks foreclose on Laurel Heights. I hope they bulldoze this place to the fucking ground.”

And David Kraft, his old pupil—who'd blushed his way through the Declaration of Independence in eighth grade, who'd dated his daughter and had the adjective poor put in front of his name in high school more than any other descriptor—brushed the dead cigarette off his lap and headed upstairs, with all the determination of a fireman heading into a burning building.

13

A week after she'd talked to Chadwick, Mallory couldn't believe how much had changed. Once she'd allowed herself to go with the program, it had been like turning a boat downstream. Suddenly, she was racing.

Her team had finished the obstacle course. They'd built an entire new barracks for the next group of rookies—the first thing Mallory had ever constructed with her own hands. Then, yesterday, they'd graduated to the job of demolition. They'd been given sledgehammers and told to destroy the barracks they'd been sleeping in.

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Like a snake shedding its skin, Leyland told them. Time to grow.

Mallory hated to admit it, but she loved knocking down the walls. She got in a few good smashes with the sledgehammer, and pretty soon she could loosen the cinder blocks enough to kick them down with her feet.

She didn't even mind sleeping in the open. The outdoors wasn't much colder than the barracks, and they'd earned new sleeping bags—good down ones, no more cheap cotton.

Tomorrow, they would start training for Survival Week. None of them knew what that meant, exactly, but the white levels talked about Survival Week like it was sacred. Their anticipation was contagious.

She still missed Race. She was scared for him, and angry with him, and worried that he might have lied to her. She was worried about her dad, too. But mostly, she was relieved she'd handed the problem over to Chadwick, the way Olsen had advised her to. Chadwick would take care of things. He'd make sure Race was safe. He'd check on her dad. Chadwick could even handle Pérez, if he had to, she was sure of that. The thought of Chadwick was like touching metal—it discharged the static energy for a while, let Mallory go about her day.

The nights were worse. She would wake up in the dark, the hills groaning, the raccoons fighting over scraps in the trash bin by the river, crying like mutant babies. She'd shiver in her sleeping bag, feeling every pebble under her shoulder blades, watching the black mesh of cypress branches cat's-cradle the moon, and she would feel absolutely certain somebody had been watching her while she slept.

She knew that was crazy. Her fears were as dumb as the ghost stories they used to tell at summer camp, back in the redwoods when she was little. There were no camp ghosts at Cold Springs. If there had been, the drill instructors would have put them to work busting cinder blocks. And yet she lay awake, thinking about Talia Montrose's torn body.

Chadwick's questions had dislodged something in her mind—something about Race's brother. She wasn't sure what. But it was there in the back of her skull, growing like a salt crystal.

When she fell asleep again, she would be back in the old Toyota, watching Katherine come down the steps of the Montrose house.

She would force herself to look at the figure on the porch—the one who'd said goodbye to Katherine before slipping back through the dark doorway.

Today, she had exhausted herself, throwing herself into the work, hoping that at night, she wouldn't dream, wouldn't wake up until the instructors rousted her out of her bag.

She spent the afternoon knocking down the last walls, pretending every brick was her mother's face—transferring all the anger she'd thrown at the program back to her mother, where it belonged.

She worked shoulder to shoulder with Morrison, but neither of them talked. That was okay with her, since the few times they got to talk they always got in a fight. When they were silent, they worked together pretty well.

She was getting stronger. The heroin shakes were gone now—the razors in her gut turned into an empty hunger that she could usually ignore. Her hands were like leather gloves, the blisters peeled away. She sweated a lot and probably smelled like crap, but there'd be the river tomorrow—the coldest bath in the world, and a chance to wash her clothes.

She was working so well she didn't realize it was time to fall in for evening sessions until Leyland started yelling at them.

Even Leyland's voice had changed over the last week. He sounded more like a PE coach, less like a demon. Not that Leyland wouldn't slap her down to size in a second if she didn't toe the line, but that didn't bother Mallory anymore. Leyland's voice had become an involuntary reflex inside her body.

The jog back to base camp was half a mile—from the destroyed barracks through a stretch of flat scrubland, wooded with soapberry trees and whitebrush and nopalitas, things Mallory wouldn't have known how to name a month ago. Now, from Leyland's survivalist lectures, she knew she could wash her clothes with those fat yellow soapberries. She knew the thorns on a whitebrush were all show—they didn't hurt a bit. And the white powder that collected in the joints of the nopalitas cactus turned red on contact with human skin—Apache war paint.

Another cold front was blowing in. Their stretch of mild sunny days was about to come to an end.

It still amazed Mallory that she could look up and see the weather changing—a curve of blue clouds like a seining net pulling south, blotting out the sunset. The sky in San Francisco was never so dramatic. The weather back home was more like her mother—mild and sweet and spineless.

“Rain tonight,” Leyland announced, jogging beside her. “Get to try your pup tent.”

“Yes, sir.”

“We're spoiling you, Zedman.”

“Yes, sir.”

They passed the stables and the pasture, and Mallory stole a glance at the horses—a bay filly, a sorrel mare, a black and white paint . . . she couldn't remember the name for that one's coloration.

They kept jogging, past the solitary confinement shed, then the damn gravel clearing where she'd been initiated into Black Level a zillion years ago. Each time she passed the place she felt ashamed and angry about that first day. She was pretty sure that's why the instructors took this route.

Another hundred yards, and she could see the counselors gathered at the base camp, on a ridge overlooking the river. The wind was swirling spear grass and dust across the granite, and the temperature had dropped.

Mallory tried to prepare herself for seeing Olsen.

With her short blond hair and her pale complexion, Olsen didn't look anything like Katherine Chadwick. Didn't even act like Katherine. But when she talked to Mallory about turning her life around, she got the same hungry look in her eyes that Katherine had had, the moment she unhooked the clasp of her necklace.

That scared the hell out of Mallory.

She was afraid of liking Olsen—starting to trust her, then waking up one morning to find Olsen gone, replaced by some other counselor who didn't give a damn.

But so far, Olsen had stayed with her, even after Mallory attacked her with the knife. Once or twice in group therapy, Mallory had been tempted to tell Olsen about her dream, to see what she'd say.

No, Mallory told herself. You open up your head, they'll see how crazy you are. They'll keep you back.

She listened hard to the other kids' stories. She'd learned about Morrison getting beat up by her stepfather. She'd learned from Smart about the drug scene in Des Moines—unbelievable that they had meth labs there, not just farmers and corn. Smart had been busted when his bedroom exploded while he was at school. Mallory had learned about Bridges, who'd been to two other boot camp schools before this one—“A kid died at one of them, so I had to leave.”

Then, last night, Mallory had shared for the first time.

It was a stupid thing to do, telling her life story to kids who didn't even know her. But it was hard to explain—like she was on the light end of a scale, getting higher and higher the more the others put out, so the whole camp felt uneven, and Mallory felt like she stuck out, like she was rising above everybody.

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