Cold Springs Page 54


“What about Mallory?”

“I'm supposed to pick her up from the woods right now. Damarodas has a court order to see her. Hunter was going to fight it, but after the news from San Francisco . . .” She hesitated, as if waiting for him to finish her sentence.

“What news?”

“Don't yank my chain.” Kindra's voice sounded brittle. “Did you do it, or not?”

“Should I pick an offense, or are you going to tell me?”

“John Zedman's body was found yesterday, in a townhouse in the Mission. Your townhouse.”

Chadwick stared at the clouds. He thought if he could just get to the window, crack it open and let the cold air sting him awake, he'd be okay. He'd realize Kindra's voice was just another sound he had misinterpreted in a dream.

“Zedman was shot dead,” she said. “He was wrapped in a plastic shower curtain, driven into the city, hauled up a flight of stairs by somebody pretty strong, then stuffed in a small storage closet, doused in cologne to hide the smell. Sick shit, Chadwick. Killer could've just dumped the body in the ocean off Highway 1, but he wanted Zedman to rot in your old house, where your daughter died. Damarodas said the placement of the gunshot wounds was a lot like what happened to that kid nine years ago—Samuel Montrose. They figure the murder happened about the time you were in town, the night you and I separated.”

Chadwick's mind fought the image, rejecting it like a splinter under the skin. He tried to remember John in his linen shirt and pajama bottoms, standing on his porch in Marin, the sunset at his back. John drunk on champagne, a $7,000 kindergarten quilt draped over his shoulders as he goaded Chadwick to show him karate moves. John clasping his shoulder, his breath stinking with gin, telling Chadwick that everything would be okay—they could tackle any problem. They had daughters to think about.

“Chadwick?” Kindra asked.

John could not be dead. Chadwick could not have spent the night with Ann—finally given up his guilt, tucked it under his bed for a few hours with his gun box—only to receive this news.

“Listen, Chadwick.” Kindra's voice caught on his name. “Get off the phone, all right? Move. I don't care what you did, just get out of town. They catch you . . . Shit— I got to go.”

The line went dead.

Bathroom faucets squeaked off. Pipes shuddered. The roar in Chadwick's ears didn't subside.

He stared at the LCD on his phone: You have missed one call.

He didn't want to retrieve the number. He figured the FBI wouldn't leave a message anyway. But he checked it, saw the San Francisco area code, the little envelope icon indicating voice mail. He replayed it.

Norma's voice: “Pick up, Chadwick, you sorry pendejo. Race Montrose is here with me. Listen to him.”

The boy's voice came on the phone.

Chadwick listened, and for the first time he understood the trap closing around him. He saw everything he cared about destroyed, himself left alive to take the blame. And the last person to die would be the one Chadwick's conscience could least bear to lose.

He can describe her day, John had said. He can tell me what she had for breakfast and where she slept and every punishment you put her through.

Chadwick buttoned his shirt, tugged on his boots. He thought of Mallory alone in the woods, her GPS bracelet blinking, betraying her exact position.

Ann came out of the bathroom wearing a White Level standard-issue towel, water beading on her shoulders. Her smile died when she saw his expression. “What is it?”

“Get dressed.” He tossed her a blue dress from her suitcase. “The police are here. They think we're in San Antonio, only reason they haven't busted down the door yet.”

“Bust down the door? Why?”

He told her the news—Pérez dead, John dead. He told her about the phone call from Norma and Race.

Her face, already flushed from the shower, turned redder. She crumpled the dress in her hands, threw it at his face. It expanded between them, the shell of a woman, then melted to the floor.

“You—did—this.” Her words punctured the air like an ice pick. “You brought me here. You brought this on my daughter.”

“Ann—”

“I should have insisted on seeing her, taking her home. But I stayed with you. I chose you over my family again. You pulled me off course, yanked me into some goddamn fantasy. Norma was right, Chadwick. She was right about you.”

His chest hurt from her words, but he concentrated on Mallory—on the steady green blink of her GPS bracelet, the morning hike that would be taking her closer and closer to the dirt road that wended through the center of Cold Springs.

“Ann, listen. We're closer than anyone thinks—that's our only advantage. I know the pickup area. I can get to Mallory. But we're losing time.”

“The police are here. You said so. Tell them.”

“The sheriff won't believe us, even if we had time to persuade him. We have to get to Mallory now. Ourselves.”

A knock on the door—hard, insistent.

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Chadwick held Ann's eyes. If she opened that door, if she trusted the police, Mallory died. And yet, he knew there was no winning for him. Even if Ann trusted him, he felt certain he would leave this room having lost her—having finally awakened her to the fact that he was as good for her as a cold knife across her neck.

A muffled male voice told Ann to open up. The voice called her by name, announced himself as a police officer.

A screen rolled shut over Ann's face—the intimacy of last night, the tenuous happiness of five minutes before completely locked away.

“Go,” she whispered. “I'll stall them. Go out the window.”

“But—”

“My daughter,” she said, her eyes hard. “Save her if you can, Chadwick, but I won't trust you with that alone. I'm talking to the police. I'll open the door whether you're here or not. Now get the hell out.”

And then he was on the porch, and over the railing.

From his own balcony, Chadwick would've landed in the snow—a short, gentle slope, only a few feet from the concealment of the woods.

From Ann's balcony, he realized where he would land only mid-fall, after gravity made second thoughts impossible. He dropped straight onto the back deck of Hunter's office, crashing on top of a county deputy. The deputy's temple connected hard with the icy wooden railing on the way down. Hunter and Sergeant Damarodas stood three feet away, frozen in mid-conversation. In that second, Chadwick might've escaped—over the edge of the deck and into the trees—but by the time he recovered his own equilibrium, Damarodas had a pistol in his hand.

“Mr. Chadwick,” he said. “You're working on your entrances.”

“Stow it. Mallory Zedman is in danger.”

Hunter and Damarodas traded looks, as if this continued a topic they'd just been discussing. Chadwick sensed a kind of reluctant alliance between them, and he registered what an odd pair they made—Asa in his brown Armani suit, his hundred-dollar silk tie, the outfit he reserved for courtrooms and television appearances; Damarodas looking like a fast-food restaurant manager in his polyester blends and his blue tie that might've been a child's clip-on. Only their expressions made them soul-mates. They were soldiers pinned down in the same trench—men who had been forced to swallow a sour solution to a mutual problem.

“We got to stay right here, amigo,” Hunter told him. “My lawyers are on the way. Until then, I'm afraid you've already given Laramie and Kreech enough rope.”

“Asa, give me the GPS locator. Otherwise Mallory's going to die.”

The tendons in Hunter's neck strained to burst his collar. “Jones is on the way to pick her up. Olsen is following her in the woods. She'll be all right.”

“You're wrong.” Then Chadwick told them about the call from Race Montrose. At Chadwick's feet, the crumpled deputy groaned, curling tighter into fetal position.

“The sheriff will never believe this shit,” Damarodas said, but Chadwick could see his mind working furiously, fitting the pieces into place. “We leave this lodge, especially with an injured deputy lying there—we're going to bust open a legal shit-spout a mile high. Special Agent Laramie's gonna get a hell of a promotion.”

“Damn,” Hunter said. “God damn it—nobody fucks with my trust that way.”

He reached in his coat pocket and threw Chadwick the GPS locator—a green bar of plastic the size of a deck of cards. “You'll never make it on the roads. Police got the gates blocked.”

“Straight overland,” Chadwick said. “Faster, impossible to follow. Gray levels should have the stables open by now.”

“You're certifiable,” Hunter told him. “Damarodas, give him your gun.”

“What?”

“He overpowered you,” Hunter said. “Remember?”

From somewhere inside the lodge, Sheriff Kreech's voice called out, “Mr. Hunter! Where the hell'd you go?”

Chadwick locked eyes with the sergeant.

Damarodas raised his gun. Then he dropped it, raised his hands in surrender. “Shit-spout a mile high. I'm going to fucking hate myself in the morning.”

Chadwick scooped up his gun and hit the railing—tumbling toward the woods and the river, where islands of snow were spinning downstream.

36

After her gory breakfast, Mallory cleaned up at the river as best she could. Her whole body was sore, her abdomen taut with menstrual cramps. She had no pads, no tissue, nothing except her clothes, but at least her flow wasn't as heavy as it had been the day before, and her uniform was black and already filthy.

She warmed herself by the fire until the wet sleeves of her jacket turned stiff and hot.

She wanted to bury the gutted shell of the armadillo. She owed the animal that much. But the ground was too hard to dig, even with her knife. Finally, she decided on cremation. She dropped the remains in the hot coals, and watched the tiny hairs curl to ash.

She adjusted the knife strap on her leg. She tugged at the GPS bracelet, still blinking on her wrist. She made sure her fire was out, the scorched armadillo shell covered in the ashes.

Mallory took one last look at her campsite—the hollow cypress tree where she'd spent the night, the bed of moss, the lean-to of snow-covered, woven branches. Not bad work, for cold hands in the dark.

A redtail hawk circled above. Mockingbirds rustled through the juniper branches, shaking off patches of snow as they pecked at the dusty blue berries.

She didn't want to leave the clearing. She felt connected with it, the same way she felt connected to that ratty stairwell where she and Race had made love. She would remember this place for a long time. It would hurt to remember. But she knew now that the important places almost always hurt.

The sky was overcast. She had nothing to guide her except a vague sense of where the sun had risen, so she struck out in that direction, hoping her course was easterly.

After a few miles of walking, she started hearing things behind her. Twigs snapped. Frozen leaves crackled. The skin on her neck prickled, and she felt the presence stalking her again.

She stopped to look back, but nothing was there. She was seized by the same irrational panic she used to have when she was young, taking swimming lessons at the Jewish Community Center, when she'd convinced herself there was a shark in the pool. She knew it was fantasy, but the terror made her claw up the wading steps all the same.

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