Cold Springs Page 29

“The truth?” Olsen asked.

“Yeah.”

“I don't know a damn thing about horses. They scare me. I wasn't even sure they liked apples.”

A smile tugged at Mallory's lips. “I suppose I have to write that postcard now.”

“After I brought you to see horses and didn't even freak out? You pretty much owe me, yeah.”

“Why is it so important I write my mom?”

“It's not important to me. It's important to you. The people in your life never go away, Mallory—not when you run, not when they hurt you. You have to find a connection with them that works. You have to start somewhere.”

She brought out the postcard and the pen, offered them to Mallory.

The horse sniffed to see if this was another offering of food, and then, disappointed that it wasn't, snorted into Mallory's hair.

Mallory took the postcard, suddenly liking the idea of sending her mom something that had horse snot on it.

She wrote, Dear Mom, I'm fine. I'm sorry for trying to hurt you.

She signed her name and gave the card back to Olsen. Her hands only trembled a little. Olsen dabbed the raindrops off the card, then slipped it into her coat pocket.

“So where was Race?” Olsen's question was as unobtrusive as the patter of rain on the grass. “If he wasn't with you, where was he?”

“I told you, I was just talking. It's nothing.”

Olsen crumpled the plastic bag and stuffed it in her pocket along with the postcard. “It's the fourth thing to master, Mallory, the last of Dr. Hunter's concepts. Trust.”

“Yeah? What's the end of your story?”

Olsen stared at her.

“The thing with your stepdad,” Mallory said. “The lie you told your mom. That's got something to do with why you're counseling me, doesn't it? I remind you of something that happened to you.”

Olsen's eyes were blue, but they reflected the blackening sky. “You'd better get some sleep, now, kiddo. Big night tonight.”

“Don't you mean big day tomorrow?”

Olsen hesitated, and for a weird moment, Mallory thought she knew about her dreams, knew how Mallory sometimes woke in a cold sweat.

“Just get some sleep. We'll talk again soon enough.”

That night after rations, Mallory was allowed to build the fire.

She set tinder around the brace, trying to keep it dry from the cold drizzle that was falling.

She thought about Katherine, and wondered what she'd be doing now if she were alive. Maybe Katherine would be here at Cold Springs, helping kids the way Olsen was.

She got the fire to smolder, then flicker, then finally blaze.

Mallory cracked a branch of mesquite that looked like a wishbone. She tossed the short end into the flames, stared at the red outline of the other piece, which now resembled a crutch.

Accountability.

Competence.

Honesty.

Trust.

14

The man who opened John Zedman's door had a pencil goatee, the build of a middleweight, and a Mexican snake-and-eagle tattoo on his forearm. He reminded Chadwick of Norma's cousins in L.A.—the ones who threw hand grenades into empty police cars.

“You must be Pérez,” Chadwick said. “I've heard wonderful things.”

“Don't take warnings real well, Mr. Chadwick, do you?”

No hesitation. No confusion about who he was talking to. Pérez's eyes glowed like magnifying glass light on kindling.

“This is Miss Jones, my partner,” Chadwick told him. “We want to speak with John.”

“You carrying?”

“We fly for a living,” Chadwick said. “Be a little hard to pack pistols.”

Pérez produced a nine-millimeter from the back of his belt. “I don't have that problem. Come on in.”

Chadwick glanced at Kindra. “Told you, you should've waited in the car.”

“After sitting on my butt an hour last time? Shit, Chad. Even this clown's more interesting.”

“I'm being hospitable,” Pérez warned. “So shut up and come in.”

All traces of Ann had vanished from the house. No orchids in the windows, no kentia palm under the skylight. Her folk art no longer cluttered the coffee tables. The mantel was bare of photographs. Everything was stark white and black and decidedly John.

Debussy on the stereo, postmodern paintings on the walls. The only sign Mallory had ever lived there was the old kindergarten quilt hanging by the fireplace, its glass frame cracked, a huge triangular shard missing at about the level of a man's fist.

Pérez stopped Chadwick by the sofa and turned him around, made him open his overcoat. Then he studied Jones, who could've concealed six or seven weapons in her baggy flannel and corduroy layers.

“You ain't frisking me, Juan Valdéz,” she said. “Just get over it.”

Apparently Pérez decided she wasn't worth the trouble.

“Walk,” he said. “Mr. Z's on the back deck. Go straight—”

“I remember,” Chadwick said.

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They went through the kitchen, Pérez flanking them, putting himself at just the right angle to maximize Chadwick's discomfort. His presence brought back combat instincts Chadwick hadn't used in years—memories of hand-to-hand training at Lackland, waiting for a baton strike from any angle, trying to widen his peripheral vision.

“You want to not breathe on my cornrows?” Kindra told Pérez.

John Zedman stood on the back porch, talking on his cell phone, the Pacific Ocean glittering behind him. The wind coming up from the headlands smelled of sea foam and wet redwood. He registered their presence and held out his fingers, as if to catch a baseball.

“Yes,” he said into the phone. “Subdivided into twenty-acre lots. Correct.”

It was noon, but John still wore pajama pants, a linen dress shirt open over a tank top. He paced, barefoot, across the wooden slats of the deck. A coffee cup sat on the railing next to a plate of Eggo's.

His hair had thinned, gone gray at the temples. His face looked drawn, as if he'd been fighting the flu. He'd put on weight in the gut and his eyes were bloodshot. Chadwick had somehow anticipated that John would look better than he had in the early 1990s—that affluence would've oiled him up like a machine. But each year seemed to have been leeched out of John from a painful incision in a vein.

John hung up, punched some buttons on his cell phone, as if doing a calculation. He seemed in no hurry to speak.

“Tell your doorman to put away his pea-shooter,” Chadwick said at last.

“I don't think so,” John said. “Pérez has a pretty good sense of who's untrustworthy.”

“Twenty-seven million stolen from Laurel Heights, John—from the fund you set up.”

John set the phone down on the railing, picked up his coffee cup. “You've got some fucking nerve coming here. Ann embezzles, and you complain to me.”

“Stop playing games.”

John held his hand toward Pérez, who stood motionless in the doorway. “Am I playing any games, Emilio?”

“No, sir.”

“There you are then. Emilio is the most humorless man I've ever met. He would know if I was playing games.”

“Have you seen Samuel Montrose?” Chadwick asked. “I mean, actually seen him?”

John's reaction was immediate and negative—like a man with a severe food allergy. His face became blotchy. “Pérez—did you offer Chadwick any coffee? And Miss—”

“Jones,” she said. “No. Your man was too busy showing off his little gun.”

Chadwick kept his eyes on John. He wished Kindra had stayed in the car like he'd asked. He wished Pérez would go inside. John was too stage-conscious with other people around. Chadwick would never get a straight answer this way.

“How long has the blackmail been going on?” he asked.

“No. We're not going to have this conversation.”

“Your money has been putting Race Montrose through school. You arranged to buy Talia Montrose's house. Now you've stolen Laurel Heights' capital campaign money. I don't think you did it just to get back at Ann, or get custody of Mallory. I think your blackmailer put you up to it. What did he promise you, John—that he'd go away?”

“I had about three minutes to give you, Chadwick. I'm afraid you just used it all.”

“I'll keep Mallory safe,” Chadwick said. “I promise that.”

John laughed bitterly. “He can describe her day, Chadwick. He can tell me what she had for breakfast and where she slept and every punishment you put her through.”

The deck swayed under Chadwick's feet. “Who said this? When?”

“You meant a lot to me once. That's dead now. Get the fuck out of my house.”

“Talk to me, John.”

“Tell me one thing,” John said. “Straight to my face. Did you get any letters? Did Samuel contact you even once?”

“No.”

John looked away. “You should've lied, Chadwick. You should've told me yes.”

“I can help you. I understand—”

“You understand nothing. You ran, Chadwick. I stayed here. I've had to deal with your shit as if it were mine. So don't tell me you understand. You don't have the first fucking clue.”

“John, this is your daughter—”

“My daughter, Chadwick. Yours is dead, remember? Yours is dead, and you don't get a second chance with mine.”

Chadwick's body didn't belong to him anymore. His fingers gripped John's shirt, crumpling the fabric, lifting John as if forcing him to see Chadwick eye-to-eye.

“Hey, Chad.” Jones' voice, a half octave higher than usual. “Um—somebody wants to break in.”

Dimly Chadwick became aware of Pérez, the muzzle of his nine-millimeter an inch away from Chadwick's temple. Through the roar in his ears, he heard John say, “Emilio, back off.”

Pérez lowered the gun.

Chadwick set John down, let go of his shirt.

He stepped back, the anger draining as quickly as it filled him, leaving him ashamed and hollow. “I don't want to be your enemy, John.”

“You stole my wife, then my daughter, and you're not my enemy? Get the fuck out, Chadwick.”

He turned and poured his coffee into the wind, the liquid curling like a brown silk shroud as it fell.

After Chadwick left, John stood at the railing, staring at the half-eaten toaster waffle, at his own reflection in the yellow glaze of the Fiestaware plate.

He looked like a plague victim.

Worse. He reminded himself of his father in the last year of his life—slugging down gin at El's Tavern, bemoaning the wife who'd left him and the son who'd grown to fear him—until his liver had finally turned to clay.

Men who don't let their anger out eventually get warped inside. John knew this. They get twisted. They drink, or fight, or seek even darker consolations.

Chadwick had seemed larger, dangerous in a way John never would've imagined before.

He had always been so reserved. How could anybody be that way all the time? How could they not let their feelings break out somewhere?

“Boss,” Pérez said.

I don't want to be your enemy.

“The money,” Pérez said. “You already sent the account numbers?”

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