Cold Springs Page 30


“No. Not yet.”

“Don't.”

John looked up. “My daughter. Samuel will kill her.”

“Samuel Montrose isn't the blackmailer. Blackmailer is that asshole Chadwick. You see the look in his eyes when he grabbed you?”

If Pérez hadn't said it, John might have let the moment pass—he might have let the doubt play in his mind, then evaporate. But Pérez saw it, too.

How could the blackmailer have described Mallory's day at Cold Springs so well? Why had Chadwick been spared the blackmail letters, and John had not? Most importantly, who knew about that one mistake John had made, nine years ago, that had been the grounds for the blackmail?

As much as the nightmare haunted John, he had always suspected the blackmailer couldn't be Samuel.

It had to be Chadwick.

Katherine's suicide had derailed Chadwick's plan to steal Ann from him. Chadwick was left alone, bitter, cut off from his past. Naturally, he would look for someone besides himself to blame, someone to hate. He would look at John, who still had his wife and child, and Chadwick would grow angry. If Chadwick couldn't be happy, then neither could John. The blackmail had destroyed John's marriage. Now John was close to losing his daughter. This wasn't the work of Samuel Montrose. This was the work of an embittered friend, who'd just looked John in the eye and claimed he wanted to help.

“Let me take care of this,” Pérez said. “I'll get your daughter back. I'll deal with Chadwick. Let me call a compadre of mine.”

John's hands trembled. Chadwick—his oldest friend.

His daughter's life.

The taste in his mouth was like arsenic. His reflection in the yellow plate stared up at him—sour, hard, old. Getting old alone. Without his daughter, or his wife.

“What do you need?” John asked Pérez.

And for the first time that John could ever remember, Pérez smiled.

15

Downtown Oakland steamed with eucalyptus and car exhaust and burning peanut oil from Chinese buffets. On Broadway, Asian women pushed strollers past the vegetable stands. Jackhammers echoed in the canyons between buildings. Businessmen chatted under the red and gold awnings of dim sum restaurants.

Jones turned on 12th Street and found a nice illegal parking spot by a construction zone, where the plywood walkways were decorated with murals of César Chávez and Malcolm X.

The address for Race's grandmother was across the street—a ten-story brick building that should've been condemned for earthquake safety decades ago. Or maybe it had been condemned. Half the windows were boarded up, the other half open to the air, like cells in a rotten honeycomb.

“What's this kid's name again?” Jones asked.

“Race Montrose.”

“And he's not a pickup.”

“Just a kid I need to talk to.”

She chewed her gum, then nodded. “Okay. We're getting out of the want-to-tell-me phase, into the pretty-much-have-to-tell-me phase. What the fuck's going on, Chadwick?”

He had been waiting for a confrontation. All the way across the San Rafael Bridge, Jones had been too calm, driving almost like a human being—both hands on the wheel, speedometer not a mile over eighty. She hadn't even rammed the drivers who cut into her lane.

“I'm sorry about what happened in Marin,” he said. “You don't have to come in this time.”

“Aren't we supposed to be partners?”

Behind the horn-rimmed glasses, her eyes were tranquil, almost sleepy. False advertising.

“You're right,” he said.

He told her about Katherine and Samuel Montrose, Mallory and Race, Talia Montrose's murder. He filled in what she hadn't heard about the missing millions from Laurel Heights, the fact that Race had tried to warn Norma before it happened.

The information seemed to weigh her down with a heavy, quiet anger that reminded him a lot of Asa Hunter.

“You're telling me somebody who lives here”—she lifted her hand toward the apartment building—“forced your rich friend in Marin to steal twenty-seven million from his ex-wife's posh school? Do I have that right?”

“There's a connection between the money and the Montroses. Race knows what it is. That's all I'm saying.”

“This boy is black.”

“Yes.”

“Dr. Hunter—he knows you're doing all this on company time?”

“He knows.”

“So he figures something doesn't add up. He's afraid this Race kid is going to end up in jail for murder and your friend Zedman is going to skate. He's trying to decide whether or not he wants to protect Mallory.”

“Something like that.”

Jones blew a bubble and bit it. “Day I interviewed? Hunter showed me that girl. She was exhibit A for how to use a straitjacket.”

“He showed her to you?”

“He was touring me around and shit. Your old partner—tall, blond crewcut—what's her name—”

“Olsen.”

“She was there, going down to counsel the girl. Should've seen the way Mallory blew up at her. Those two have a history?”

He remembered Olsen and Mallory on the Big Lodge porch, Mallory's spittle gleaming on Olsen's shoulder. “No history.”

Kindra frowned. “The police looking for a murder suspect in the juvenile category, I know who I'd nominate.”

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A biplane droned overhead, dragging a yellow banner for a local microbrewery. Chadwick thought about the days when he could look up at a small plane and not wonder if it was some kind of threat, some lunatic with a canister of nerve gas. That kind of simplicity seemed as distant as Katherine's life, as the days he could come to Oakland and not think dark thoughts about the Montrose clan and the part they played in Katherine's death.

“I'm not saying Mallory's an innocent victim.”

“But you've got a stake in saving her,” Kindra said, “because of your daughter, right? And you've got no reason to help the Montroses.”

“I'll ask Race for the truth, encourage him to talk to the police.”

“And if he doesn't, there's always the plastic cuffs.”

Chadwick was silent.

“Hunter won't let you turn him in?”

“That's not why.”

“You promised Mallory?”

“No.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Don't tell me it's because you don't trust the police to be fair. I hear that from a white man, my whole world image is going to shatter.”

“If I turned Race in, I'd be doing it for the wrong reasons.”

The biplane hummed and tilted and arced away over Lake Merritt.

Jones opened the car door. Her anger stiffened her movements like chain mail, but she gave him a punch in the leg that might almost have been an apology. “You're starting to interest me, Chad. Let's go.”

The building's doorway was filled with a smelly green mound of blankets that might have contained a human being. Chadwick and Jones stepped over it and began climbing the dark stairwell.

“How do you know where we're going?” Kindra asked.

“Mallory said fifth floor.”

“The cops so hot to find this kid, how come they're not staking this place out?”

Chadwick had wondered about that. As shorthanded as all police departments were, especially when it came to tracking juvenile offenders, he had half expected to see some surveillance on the street. Maybe they were too late. Maybe Sergeant Damarodas had already apprehended the boy.

Out every broken window on the fifth-floor hallway was a million-dollar view—afternoon light on the water, patina hills rimming the horizon, wind sweeping white sails across the Bay. Inside, the scene was twenty-first-century dungeon—peeling wallpaper and crumbling brick, carpet worn down to fungus patches on an otherwise bare concrete floor.

They walked to the only visible door—a cheap sheet of particleboard, Motown music seeping from the uneven crack at the bottom.

Chadwick knocked. Then again, more loudly.

A black woman in her sixties opened up. She was short and pudgy, but she had Race Montrose's luminous eyes, his delicate mouth. Her hair was permed and gelled into a ginger-colored hydra, pieces of aluminum foil stuck in the curls. In her grimy pink sweat suit, she looked like she'd just run from a burning beauty salon.

“Mrs. Ella Montrose?” Chadwick asked.

“You that man,” she said.

“Ma'am?”

“One with the stick. Big stick.” She showed him the length of the imaginary implement with her hands, glared at him like she was making the most reasonable accusation in the world.

Then the smell hit him—rum fumes rippling off the old woman as thick as gas station air.

“My name's Chadwick,” he said. “This is Ms. Jones. We're looking for Race.”

The old woman jabbed a fat knuckle at Kindra. “You that girl, too. What you mean, bringing a big pet like this inside, where people live? Ain't I tole you before?”

Jones pointed at Chadwick. “This pet here? Yes, ma'am—he's mostly housebroken. You know where Race is at?”

Ella Montrose raised her hands in front of her face and pushed the air away. “No, no. NO GODDAMN DEALIN' in my home. I'm a CHRISTIAN woman!”

She started to close the door, but Chadwick pressed his palm against it. “Ma'am, Race is in trouble. We need to talk to him.”

Her murderous look reminded Chadwick of Samuel, that night nine years ago at the Oakland juvenile detention center. But whatever circuitry once connected Ella Montrose's brain to her face had long ago melted. On Ella Montrose, a scowl held no more menace than the eyes on a moth's wings.

“You two ain't real,” she told him. “I reach in the photo book and pull you out. Just like my Talia.”

“Ma'am,” Chadwick persisted. “Is Race here?”

“I'm not going to no home. I'm not crazy.”

“It's about Mallory Zedman.”

The name seemed to set off a ripple in Ella Montrose's facial muscles. “Seen too much when he was small, that boy. You stay away from him, you hear? Go back in the picture book.”

“Hey,” Jones said. She dug a twenty out of her pocket, held it up between two fingers, then spoke slowly and clearly, as if to a child, “How about you go down to the Jiffy Liquor, buy yourself some lunch, okay?”

“Ms. Jones—”

Chadwick's reprimand was cut short by a young man's voice, coming from somewhere deep inside the apartment. “Nana?”

Ella Montrose licked her lips. “He kill you, I let you in. You got to go back into the pictures, okay?”

“Take a walk, Nana,” Jones suggested gently. “Get you some Bacardi.”

“Christian woman,” Mrs. Montrose mumbled. “Girl got no business—a pet that size.”

She snatched the twenty, pushed past Chadwick into the hallway, and made for the stairwell. The aluminum foil in her hair glinted as she passed the empty windows.

Chadwick looked at Jones. “In the future, no bribery. That woman is ill.”

“So now she's ill and twenty dollars richer. We going in or not?” Her voice was harsh and brittle, as if the old lady had unnerved her more than she cared to let on. She held the door for Chadwick.

On the other side was no apartment—just an enormous loft space, vast open floor and ceiling supported by white concrete columns, huge windows pouring in light. A living room area had been set up in one corner, a bedroom in another, so it looked like a third-rate furniture showroom rather than a place someone would live. Cheap jasmine incense burned somewhere. A boom box played “Mustang Sally.” Strung between two columns was a water-stained pink sheet; behind it, Chadwick could see the lanky silhouette of Race Montrose getting dressed.

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