Cold Springs Page 52


He knew what they were thinking. He was a transient, taking up a table. He would bother them for spare change. Or mug them. Why didn't the café management tell him to move?

Race understood the hate that had driven the knife into his mother thirty-two times. He understood Samuel.

Race's take on it— Being black, you were never far away from a split identity. You always wrestled with a secret desire, a guilty wish that you could be someone else—just slip into a different skin for a while, be invisible, not the object of suspicion and resentment and fear. For him, for a Montrose, it was only a small step from that to schizophrenia, or homicide, or both.

He remembered the first time—when he was a little boy, after he'd told her what he saw, after the body had been found, washed up in a rotting piece of canvas on the shores of Hayward. She had grabbed his arm with such desperation that her fingertips left bruises. “That wasn't him. You understand? Samuel will take care of you. Samuel's your protection.” And the light in her eyes had been just like Nana's—the refracted shimmer of a crystal with a crack in its heart. Whenever Race looked in a mirror, he feared he would start having that same look in his eyes. Since the night of Samuel's murder, Race feared that his whole life had been the product of a fracture—that she was his imagination, too.

He couldn't turn himself in. He couldn't betray her. Even now, after all she'd done, she was still his protection. She was still Samuel. He would have to find a sidewalk to curl up on tonight, a church basement to hide in. He would have to argue with the derelicts about laundry money.

He stared at Chadwick's card, pecking at the edge with his greasy fingernail.

A man's voice said, “Hi, Race.”

The fear started in Race's fingers and worked its way up to his neck.

The guy in front of him had close-cropped blond hair, hazel eyes, a face like a baby who'd just gotten through screaming. He wore a black sailor's coat over black denim, a newspaper pinched in his left hand, his right hand in his jacket pocket, closed around something bulky that Race thought was a gun.

“Oh, come on,” the man said. “Not even a hello?”

“Kraft,” he said. “You're that David guy.” Race had never seen the guy without a jacket and tie, never seen him looking so street.

David Kraft smiled. “Funny. Like you didn't know me.”

Race's mind was going fast, running possibilities, angles. He was trying to figure what the hell this guy was doing here, what he wanted.

“I live down the street,” Kraft told him. “I'm a neighbor, practically. You don't remember me from the old days? Didn't know I was an East Bay boy?”

Race could run for it. He knew the alleys. It was dark. But if that was a gun in Kraft's pocket, only three feet from his chest, Race didn't like his chances.

“Empty your pockets,” Kraft said. “Very, very slowly.”

Race pulled out his twenties, half a buck in change, the key to Nana's apartment tangled in pocket thread. Chadwick's card. A paperback copy of The Bluest Eye from his jacket. A spent bullet casing he'd picked up from Samuel's bedroom. A number two pencil.

Kraft said, “Unarmed?”

“Yeah.”

Race made a conscious effort not to move his feet, not to tip off the ankle-strap in any way.

David Kraft tossed the newspaper onto the table. “Look.”

It was folded to a story with a photo of the man's face, but it took Race a second to register who he was looking at.

Mallory's dad.

Fear started rolling around his stomach like a marble. He lifted the paper off the table.

He read about it for the first time—John Zedman reported missing three days ago, bloodstains found at his house. His body had been found today in an unoccupied townhouse in the Mission, discovered by one of the property owners, Norma Reyes. Ann Zedman, the deceased's ex-wife, recently suspended from her headmistress job at Laurel Heights on suspicion of embezzlement, was wanted for questioning in the murder, but was believed to have left town.

“Nice job,” Kraft told him. “Hauling the body all that way, just for the effect. I mean, that was overtime pay, right there.”

Race stared at the picture. She had done this. She'd promised no one would get hurt. “I didn't know. I didn't—”

“Oh, of course not,” Kraft said. “Never. Right? And the name Katherine Chadwick—that doesn't mean anything to you either.”

With his free hand, Kraft pulled out his keys and threw them on the table. The keys were attached to a metal figurine of Mickey Mouse, about two inches tall. It struck Race as a weird thing for a guy to have on his key chain.

“What you're going to do,” Kraft said, “is drive. You got your learner's permit, Race?”

“No.”

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“That's bullshit. I've got access to your student files. I know your age, your mom's and grandma's addresses, your blood type and your fucking birthday. You know how to drive. You're going to drive me to a place where we can talk.”

Race didn't move.

“Or you could scream for help,” David Kraft added. “Call the cops. I guess you could always do that.”

Kraft smiled, waiting.

Race picked up the keys.

“Good boy,” Kraft said. “And Race—yes, it's really a gun in my pocket. In case you were wondering.”

David Kraft's car was a blue SUV, parked at the hydrant half a block up Ocean View. What he must've done—he'd seen Race at the sidewalk. Kraft had circled the block, parked on the side street, walked up behind Race. But the gun—Kraft couldn't carry that all the time. The guy was like a junior business advisor or something. Straight out of college. He must've been watching for Race—watching a long time, waiting.

“No accidents,” Kraft warned. “My dad's insurance won't cover you.”

Kraft brought out his gun, a blue-steel H&K, and pressed it into Race's thigh. Race put the key into the ignition and tried to keep his heart from climbing up his throat. The Mickey Mouse bumped against his knee as he turned the wheel.

Kraft directed him south on Broadway, then into West Oakland on side streets Race had never seen before. Section Eight housing and junkie motels gave way to warehouses, which gave way to miles of razor-wire lots stacked with shipping containers. A few more deserted streets, then the flatlands dissolved into asphalt and sea grass and crumbled right into the Bay.

Kraft directed him up to the shore, where a twenty-foot pier jutted into choppy black water.

To the south, the Port of Oakland's white cranes towered like dinosaur skeletons. To the north, the Bay Bridge glowed and hummed with traffic—thousands of commuters roaring by overhead.

A million people behind them in Oakland, another million across the Bay in San Francisco, and Race and David Kraft were totally alone.

“Get out,” Kraft told him.

“I didn't know about Mallory's dad.”

The gun pressed deeper into his thigh. “Take the keys out of the ignition, and get out of the car. It's a beautiful night.”

Race did what he was told.

He stood on the uneven shore while David Kraft came around the side of the SUV, the sights of the H&K never leaving Race's chest.

Race found himself rubbing the little Mickey Mouse—trying to calm himself with the slick metal under his thumb.

He had to get away.

She had lied to him about not hurting anyone. She had killed Zedman. That meant she would lie about other things, too. Mallory was in trouble.

The .22 was still in his ankle holster, but he'd never get it out in time. Even if he did, Race sucked at shooting. He'd never killed anybody, never even fired the damn thing except in the air on New Year's Eve. He hadn't tried the gun since Chadwick made him drop it five stories off the fire escape. Maybe it didn't even work anymore.

David Kraft prodded him toward the water, then out onto the little pier. “About halfway. That's good. Now face me.”

The wind smelled of car exhaust and rotting fish.

In the dim light from the Bay Bridge, David Kraft's face looked like metal, as if it had been hammered from the hood of his own car.

“Katherine Chadwick,” Kraft told him. “Nine years ago last summer, I took a girl to a party. She was feeling down. I wanted to give her a thrill, show her I could pick up drugs, slum on the bad side of town, you know? So I took her to this house—this little fucking piss-yellow house in West Oakland, and Samuel Montrose stole her from me. Ruined her, got her so hooked on smack that she thought a gangster piece-of-shit like him could actually love somebody. She died, Race. Her parents failed her. The school failed her. I failed her. But most of all, she died because of Samuel. A piece of shit named Samuel Montrose. You look just like him, you know. Just like him.”

Race was imagining that he could levitate straight up from this spot. He could see every important place in his life: his mother's house on Jefferson, Laurel Heights, Nana's apartment, Rockridge, Telegraph Hill. He had never traveled farther than he could see right now, from this spot, and he wondered if this was the geographic center of his life—the point where all the distances averaged out.

He couldn't die. He had to make someone believe him—Norma Reyes. If he could just talk to her again, look straight in her eyes and make her listen.

“The funny thing is,” David Kraft said, “I came back to Laurel Heights thinking I would make peace with the place. I wanted to help the capital campaign. I wanted to forgive them for failing Katherine. For failing me. And what's the first thing I find out? You. Ann Zedman had accepted you as a student, let her own daughter be friends with you. And I understood from day one what your family was doing, Race. Fuckin' A. They were pissing on Laurel Heights, shoving you in everybody's faces. For months, I thought about killing you, but I'm not an animal. So I planted the gun in your locker. I made sure you got kicked out. But you're a tenacious little prick. You and your family—I don't know how you managed it, but you got the capital campaign funds and pinned it on Mrs. Zedman. You killed John Zedman, made it look like Chadwick did it. You set that all up beautifully. And I started figuring, well what the hell? Let's see how far the little prick can take it. So I called the media for you. I did every fucking thing to fan the fire, make sure Laurel Heights went down in flames. But the thing is, Race—you've done about as much for me now as you can. You're part of the problem, too. Your family can't just walk away. So tell me the truth now—who's got the money?”

Race thought about it—the answer least likely to get him shot. “Samuel.”

“I'd like that. I'd like to believe he's alive. But see, I heard the hesitation there. I think Samuel's dead—a guy with an attitude problem like his couldn't live to be an adult. So who's got the money, Race? You might even live, you can tell me that.”

“I don't have any money.”

“One . . .”

Race imagined he was back on the fire escape, the metal rail peeling into oblivion, and Chadwick catching his arm—giving Race the chance to kill him, shoot him right in the face, but it would mean falling, bike-pedaling through five stories of air, and Race knew that was no choice at all. He had to live. He had to let Chadwick live. Even then, he couldn't fire a gun. How could he fire it now?

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