Cold Springs Page 53


“Two . . .”

“There's nobody else,” Race said. “It's just me. Just me.”

“Three. Turn your back to me, Race. Kneel down.”

“You'll never get the money.”

“The money is secondary, Race. Very, very secondary. Now do what I said.”

Race turned, sank to his knees. His hands grabbed his ankles, and he felt the .22 in its holster.

“You know what I got in the car, Race? I got lead weights. Big, bowling-ball-sized things. They hold down plastic tarps in windstorms. I'm going to rope them around your ankles. You'll go down in fifteen feet of water right here—standing up. At low tide, the sunlight will just touch your fingertips. And you will rot there. Nobody comes here, Race. Nobody except me. This place is mine. Now I'm going to share it with you.”

And Race looked out over the dark stretch of shoreline—rocks and wind and the stench of dead fish, an acre of desolation with a view of two cities.

He felt the boards bow under David Kraft's weight. Race's fingers worked their way into his pants leg, around the grip of the .22.

“Don't forget your Mickey Mouse,” he told Kraft. “It's in my pocket.”

“Katherine's,” he corrected. And he patted Race's head, affectionately. “She gave it to me the week before she died. I'll remember, Race. Now why don't you pray or something? Do people still do that?”

And Race did pray, as he slipped the .22 out of its holster, trying not to move a single unnecessary muscle. He imagined his soul rising out of his body, the way his mother had always told him souls did, and choosing between trains—a BART train riding west, into the city, toward Norma Reyes, who was standing in her bathrobe on her porch. Or a fiery train east, toward Mallory and Texas, toward the Caldecott Tunnel where Samuel's condominium smelled like death, and Race would be another voice, another wisp of evil for the radio to drown out.

“This is for Katherine,” David Kraft said.

He gently pushed Race's head down, to expose his neck, but Race fell sideways, turning, bringing his gun up to David Kraft's wide eyes so that two blasts sounded at once—a single bright snap that echoed over miles of empty water and dissipated in the roar of the evening commute.

34

Mallory woke with a start. There were snuffling noises in the darkness, something scuttling through branches.

The fire was dangerously low, and she was still shivering. Her clothes felt like plaster of Paris, melted against her skin, and snow had frosted her shoes where they stuck out of the hollow tree.

At the edge of the red arc of firelight Mallory saw something rustling in the brush. She thought about the thing that had followed her yesterday. She moved her arm slowly, wrapped her fingers around an icy rock the size of a grapefruit. A month ago, she wouldn't have had the strength to lift it. Now, she hurled it at the dark shape—hoping she pegged it.

There was a sick crunch, and then a flurry of scuffling, which died down but did not go away.

Drawing her knife, Mallory advanced and found that her rock had landed squarely on the head of a football-sized . . . something. A giant roly-poly bug with hair. A thrill of terror shot up Mallory's spine, until she realized what it was—a stupid armadillo.

Its armor hadn't helped the poor thing. Its snout was crushed, and it was lying on its side, one glazed eye red in the firelight, a bubble of blood coming out of its nostril. Its claws scraped weakly at the air.

Mallory's fear turned to shame. She hadn't even managed to kill it, just torture it.

She was too numb to think. Some other part of her took over, and she approached the thing with her knife. She stuck at its head. The first stab missed, but the second hit home. It was still not quick, but the thing died.

It was the first time Mallory had killed, and she didn't like it.

She sat there trembling. The armadillo's smell was horrible—some defense mechanism, Mallory guessed—but she couldn't move away. She knew she should stoke the fire. She would probably die if she didn't.

In the end, the cold wasn't what got her moving. It was hunger. Mallory was disgusted with herself, but she realized the knot in her stomach wasn't revulsion, but the desire to eat.

She had killed her first animal. She felt like she owed the poor thing something—to make something good come out of its pain.

I can't eat that, she told herself.

But the answer came immediately, Of course she could. Hadn't she seen them hanging dead in shop windows in Chinatown?

They have leprosy or something, Mallory remembered. The thing is disgusting. It's probably crawling with parasites.

So are you, came the answer. You have a day to walk. You'll never make it without food.

In a daze, Mallory went into the woods and got more wood. She heard more rustling sounds in the darkness, wondered if the presence that had followed her the day before was still out there.

Let it come, she thought. I'm tired of being scared.

She stoked the fire to a blaze. Then she went back to the armadillo.

She touched its shell, which felt like a warm patchwork of toenails. She turned the animal over and looked at its furry underbelly, its claws. She counted to herself—one, two, three—then made the first cut, splitting the body from neck to anus.

She was no hunter, no country girl. The best she could think of to give herself courage were science class dissections—she and Race freaking out over the fetal pig they'd named Wilbur—but the dissections hadn't been in the dark, with no gloves, and with the intent of eating the subject.

Mallory turned aside from the smell and the gore several times and tried to retch, but there was nothing in her stomach, and her hands were sticky with blood. She couldn't turn away from the work. She was covered in it.

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She worked as if she were under a shell—as if she were the armadillo, and most of her upper brain functions had retreated into a safe, hardened place, leaving her body to its butchery.

At last, the armadillo was gutted, and Mallory had four slimy strips of flesh spit on a branch like a bloody shish kebab. She let the meat cook over the flames, watching the tiny slivers hiss and sizzle and burn at the edges, and her revulsion turned to fascination, and then to ravenous hunger. The smell was cooking meat, and her stomach approved.

She carried her prize down to the river and washed her hands, which seemed like an absurd civility once she'd done it. Then she went back to the fire and ate the meat, so hot it burned her tongue. It was tough and fine-grained, and tasted like pork chop. Mallory finished it all.

As she ate, she thought she could feel her eyes clearing, but then she realized there was a faint gray glow on everything. The dawn was coming. In the distance, she could hear a sound like sirens, but she knew it must be something else—some kind of bird waking up, or some forlorn animal.

She would walk again today, and she would get herself out of the woods.

A new energy wound up inside her like a motor. She looked at her hands, wondered how much of the red was fire and how much was blood.

Her old fears seemed absurd to her now. They belonged to a little kid two thousand miles away. Mallory could handle herself. She could damn well handle Samuel.

She made herself a promise that she would tell the truth when she got out of the woods.

Mallory sat, becoming comfortable with the idea, steeling her courage. The cold didn't seem so bitter now, and she sat by the fire until the sun came up, a murky yellow stain on the thick gray clouds.

35

Chadwick dreamed the snow was turning to rain, drizzling against the doors of the porch. He dreamed of police sirens, and his own breath turning into the soft vibrations of a silenced cell phone.

His eyes opened. His cell phone was rattling on the nightstand. There was a warm empty furrow in the sheets where Ann had been, and the rain he'd imagined was the shower in the bathroom. Somewhere in the distance, emergency vehicles keened like coyotes as they moved through the hills.

The morning sky was dismal gray. Chadwick had a moment of disorientation, wondering why the windows were on the wrong side of the room, why his bed was against the wrong wall. Then he remembered, halfway through the night, Ann had moved down the hall to her guest room. She had insisted, in case somebody knocked on Chadwick's door in the morning. She didn't want to embarrass him. But he had followed her, and the next few hours had infused his limbs with a pleasant weariness he was reluctant to shake off.

His phone vibrated again. He picked it up. The LCD read: 7:06 A.M. Caller: Cold Springs.

He didn't recognize the speaker at first—a woman's voice, asking what the hell he had done.

Chadwick processed the question. “Kindra?”

“The FBI,” she told him. “Get the hell out now.”

“What?”

“That guy Laramie, a couple of other feds, maybe half a dozen county deputies. They just left here for the Hill Country Sheraton.”

He knew the police were scheduled to visit Cold Springs this morning. He was prepared for that. But seven in the morning?

He was about to tell Kindra he wasn't at the Sheraton. He was right upstairs, probably not fifty feet from her. But the sirens kept wailing, fainter and fainter, and some instinct told him to keep his location to himself.

“What happened?” he asked. “They found Pérez?”

“Yeah, they found him.”

“He making trouble for us?”

“The biggest kind, Chadwick. He's been murdered.”

Each granule in the texture of the ceiling abruptly came into sharper focus. He sat up in bed. “Where?”

“You don't have time, Chad. Those cops—”

“Tell me.”

A beep—a waiting call on Chadwick's end of the line—cut off part of Kindra's profanity.

“A farmer found the body,” she told him. “Pérez was laying face up on the side of a dirt road, tangled in a fence. According to Laramie, he was hit by a car, then took a bullet in the head. Satisfied?”

“We left Pérez alive.”

“Yeah. And then what happened?”

“I didn't kill him.”

“Shit.” Jones almost sounded disappointed. “That lady at the convenience store—she called us in, gave the police our description. African-American woman, six-foot-eight white guy, psycho runaway girl—how many trios like us in Fredericksburg? I don't know how Laramie knew to question your little friend Joey, but he did that, too. They had me answering some pretty uncomfortable questions. The things they were saying about you . . . I'm sorry, Chadwick. I had to tell them about the Sheraton. Best I could do is warn you.”

In the bathroom, the shower drizzled. Ann's voice hummed a soft tune that sounded like a lament.

Chadwick reached under the bed to retrieve his gun box, then remembered he wasn't in his room. “Kindra, listen—any cops still at the school?”

“Three or four. Plus the sheriff. Why?”

“What are they doing?”

“Pissing off Hunter, mostly. They had a search warrant for your room. Hunter wouldn't let them search the rest of the lodge, so now they're waiting to get a new warrant faxed over. That guy from Oakland, the homicide sergeant—”

“Damarodas is there?”

“Yeah, the FBI dudes and he didn't get along too great. They left him here while they went after you. Damarodas wasn't too happy about that.”

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