Cold Springs Page 46


“What did you want—a hole in his head?”

“Better than your plan.”

She spun away from a farm truck, found a straight stretch of blacktop, and shot down it, the speedometer edging sixty-five.

“Four hours,” Chadwick said. “San Antonio and back.”

“And then Hunter fires us.”

Chadwick didn't respond. Jones knew his phone conversation with Hunter hadn't gone well. The idea of letting Mallory see her mother—even for a short time, even to coax Mallory into remembering more information on the possible identity of a murderer—had been about as appealing to Hunter as a cozy brunch with law enforcement.

“They're coming in the morning,” Hunter had told him. “Laramie, Kreech, even Damarodas is here now. They're bringing a couple of suits from the County Attorney's Office. I want you here. I want the Zedman girl back in the program and back in the woods. You take one step that does not lead her straight back to Cold Springs, we cease to act in loco parentis. Our legal ass is shredded, and you—”

About that time, Chadwick hung up.

Jones swerved onto Farm to Market Road 75. She slammed on the brakes when she found herself opposed by a freight train crossing the tracks.

She hit the steering wheel with her palms, let the horn blare for half a minute. “Damn!”

In the back seat, Mallory curled in the corner on Chadwick's side. She draped the stolen quilt jacket over her knees and arms like a shield.

“Your mother will be here at noon,” Chadwick said. “She'll be worried about you.”

“You mean she's lost her job and for once in her life she has nothing better to do. I want to go back to the program.”

“Listen to the girl,” Kindra said.

“You said Katherine met another friend at the Montroses' house,” he told Mallory. “Somebody who gave her that heroin. You told me this, and then you want to slip back into the program and not be bothered?”

“I thought you wanted to help me.”

“I do. I also want to know why you're afraid to tell me the truth.”

Mallory shifted under her coat, her hands punching the fabric up closer to her chin. Chadwick realized that one of the things she was scared of was him.

“I'm not afraid,” she said. “I just wish Pérez hadn't been wearing that bulletproof vest.”

“Shit,” Jones said. “That's the second thing she's said I agree with.”

Train cars rumbled past—stacks of new automobiles glinting through the steel mesh siding, brown freight containers spray-painted with gangster love notes from Houston or the Rio Grande Valley or God-knew-where: MI CORAZON 4 E.P. LUPE N JOE SIEMPRE.

“John is dead,” Chadwick said, feeling it in his heart for the first time. “Ann's career is destroyed. Someone punished them to get at me, someone who knows every detail about my daughter's suicide. I'm not going to sit back and trust the police to figure out who.”

“Fine,” Jones said. She threw the car into Park. “Have fun.”

“Kindra.”

“Do what you want, Chad. Get yourself arrested for kidnapping. I'll walk back to Cold Springs.”

She opened the car door and stormed out, heading toward the train as if she were going to take it on, mano á mano.

Chadwick reached over to the ignition, removed the keys.

“Stay here,” he told Mallory.

“But—”

He got out, not waiting for her to finish.

The wind from the train was like asthmatic breathing; Jones was throwing rocks in the spaces between the cars.

“The girl told you what she needs,” she said. “Why don't you listen?”

“She's hiding. She knows something that scares her.”

“Yeah? So do I. In the last week, you've spent more time digging up your past than you have helping kids. You caught two people the cops want to see—that Race kid. Now Pérez. And you let them both go. It's almost like you don't want a solution. Like you get off on the pain. That scares me, Chad. It really does.”

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In the back seat of the car, Mallory sat still, watching them apprehensively through the glass.

Chadwick knew he could get to her. He could convince her to talk, but he needed more time. He needed Ann. Once Mallory was face-to-face with her mother, the problems in San Francisco would become real to her. She would remember what was important.

Ann was the most talented interviewer of children he'd ever known. Even if it was her own daughter, Ann would know what to say. She would get Mallory to open up.

And she would temper Chadwick's desperation—his feeling that every time he looked at Mallory, he was back at the house on Mission, about to leave for the auction, Katherine telling him, “Don't worry, Dad. We'll be fine.”

He should have stayed. He shouldn't have allowed himself to be pressured into leaving. If he had talked to his daughter in private for just a little longer, he could've gotten the truth out. They could have reconciled. And Katherine would still be alive.

Now here was his second chance, and again he was being told to leave.

“I can't trust Mallory to someone else,” he told Kindra. “I can't let her go yet.”

She threw another rock, which pinged against a coal car. “Then you were wrong trying to help her.”

“I had to.”

“You're not getting me. You were wrong because you wanted to bury your grief about your daughter. That's why you decided to help Mallory. For a while, those two things went together. Now the girl wants to go on with the program. You want her to solve some goddamn mystery, but there is no mystery. There's just your past.”

“It's her past, too.”

“Maybe. But kids can put that aside. They can lock the most horrible memories into a box, pretend they happened to someone else, and go on with the present. Trust me on this, Chadwick—they have to. Now the girl's finally moving forward, and you don't want her to. It seems to me you've got a choice to make.”

The last boxcar rattled through the crossing, sucking the wind behind it, tugging at Chadwick's coat.

“Her mother is coming to town,” he said. “What am I supposed to tell her?”

“She ain't coming just for her daughter, is she?”

Chadwick didn't answer.

Jones threw the rest of her gravel at the train tracks. “That's what I thought. That's another choice you got to make, without the girl. I'll drop you at the car pool. Get yourself a set of wheels before Hunter sees you. Go into S.A.—take the night to work it out. Then get your ass back to Cold Springs in the morning before the cops arrive.”

“I wasn't talking about—”

“You're blushing, Chad. Do what Kindra tells you. And while you're at it, ask yourself why you keep setting yourself up for hurt. Okay?”

He didn't object as Kindra lifted the car keys from his hand.

28

Norma sat on her patio, drinking hazelnut coffee and staring at her pile of disconnected phones. Three Touch-Tones, the office line, the fax, two powered-down cellulars. After coming home from Laurel Heights—wishing she had never gone, never picked up David Kraft's call—she had found twelve new messages from reporters and worried Laurel Heights parents and clients, even one from a heckler, telling her simply, “Go home, wetback.” Norma had torn through the house, meticulously unplugging everything.

She couldn't afford the quiet. She should have been in her office, making calls, working to reassure the clients she still had left, but she couldn't make herself do it. Twenty-seven million, gone. Who would trust her with their money now?

Her lawyer had told her it could be worse. She'd gotten praise from the school board for blowing the whistle on the missing funds. The media, so far, had painted her as a good guy. None of the law enforcement agencies were seriously talking about pressing charges against her.

But John was still missing. The school's money had vanished—the bank in the Seychelles saying only that the funds had been transferred again, with proper authorization, to a numbered account at a different institution. Thirty families—one-fifth of the school population—had already announced they would be leaving Laurel Heights. The school was disintegrating. For the first time this morning, the Chronicle had run a front-page article speculating on a connection between the embezzlement and John Zedman's disappearance, and the story had been lurid and juicy enough to pop up in the national wire services. And Ann, goddamn her, had run off to Texas. Despite being crushed and humiliated, despite Norma's warning, Ann had flown to Chadwick with a hopeful light in her eyes. She was doomed, as permanently gone as John.

Norma watched tourist boats shuttle back and forth to Alcatraz. She thought of John—how he'd sold her on this house five years ago, convincing her that the price was a bargain considering the view. One and a third million to wake up every morning and stare across the water at a dilapidated prison.

Go home, wetback.

San Francisco and its political correctness—its racial sensitivity. Norma knew it was bullshit. White liberalism just drove the racism underground, made it more virulent, harder to root out. She remembered the looks people used to give Chadwick, when he'd say Katherine was his daughter. She remembered the time the Laurel Heights fourth-graders had been walking to the park, Norma talking to Ann along the way, just beginning to reconcile their friendship, and some guy had shouted from his car, wanting to know where they'd gotten the monkey. And only Race and Norma had instantly understood the insult—knowing that it was aimed at Race, the only black kid in the class. Norma had run after the car for a city block—screaming, throwing rocks. The jerk just sped up and disappeared. If he hadn't, Norma would've killed him.

Norma should've moved out of town years ago. Gone back to L.A., where people had the decency to set buildings on fire when they got mad.

But still she stayed in her empty house on her cold hill, in a town she'd never liked.

The anniversary of Katherine's funeral—nine years ago today. There would be no auction at school. No one to comfort her at dinner. No work to distract her. No Zedmans. No Chadwick. Soon, no Laurel Heights.

Norma knew what she wanted to do.

She fought against it—told herself it was no better than opening the medicine cabinet and counting pills into her palm. But her last visit to the Mission—seeing Chadwick—had left her in pain.

Finding him alone in Katherine's bedroom had nagged at her. Oh, she understood the impulse, but still . . . it was intrusive, as if he were mocking her. It had thrown her off balance, made her say those bitter things about Ann.

She felt she'd missed something important about his visit—something she would've seen if she'd been thinking more clearly. She'd been so shaken, she wasn't even sure she'd locked the front door when she left.

She took one of her cell phones, slipped it in her pocket, and went back into the house.

On the kitchen counter was the Los Lobos CD John had played the night he'd visited. The cover illustration troubled her—a man and a woman dressed in Day of the Dead skeleton costumes, standing close enough to kiss, the man with an exposed, bright red heart, the woman with her arms crossed over her chest, a gun in her left hand. Had John been trying to tell her something? She couldn't help wondering if he had brought her Chinese food and wine because he'd wanted help, not romance. And she had turned him away.

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