Cold Springs Page 56


Mallory couldn't breathe, couldn't make her limbs obey.

Olsen opened her mouth, as if to protest, and a second gunshot blew a hole just above her kneecap, red mist erupting from the wound like a comet tail.

Mallory's brain managed one blunt command to her body: Move.

She shoved open her door and dove into the corn. The gun fired again. Glass shattered—the window where her head had been a moment before.

Mallory clattered away through the corn, her ears ringing. She couldn't see, could only feel the corn cutting into her, slashing at her sleeves.

“Come on, Mallory,” Jones yelled, somewhere behind her. “You're running from the wrong person.”

Mallory kept running. The gun fired again, a bullet hissing through a corn stalk inches from her ear.

Stupid, she scolded herself. Jones can see the corn moving.

She dove down, pressed herself into the snow.

She heard Jones picking her way across the field, slowly coming toward her.

“Mallory, I don't have a problem with you. But Chadwick is a killer. Katherine's death really messed him up. You got to see that.”

Mallory knew the words were a lie. Jones had brought her to this field to die.

But her father . . . she pictured him huddled in the cabinet at Katherine's house, in the secret space where she'd played hide-and-seek among the broken clock parts. She imagined a gunshot wound opening in her father's chest, his hand clutching at the blood, his eyes wide with dismay. She wanted to cry. She wanted someone to blame.

“Olsen was helping him.” Kindra Jones was rustling through the corn, getting closer to her. “They had the whole thing planned. You see that, don't you? Chadwick hates your parents. He hates you. You survived and his precious daughter didn't. Katherine was my friend, Mallory—she told me what her father was like. She killed herself because of him, because she knew what he was like and she couldn't live with the truth anymore. I'm here to stop him. I can't rely on the police to do that. I'm here to protect you and Race. That's Samuel's job, honey. That's what a big brother does.”

“No,” Mallory protested, realizing too late that she'd spoken aloud.

The rustling stopped.

Mallory heard a sound in the distance like horse's hooves, but it was only in her mind—her own heart hammering.

Survival rules. Survey. Organize. Strategize.

What was there to survey? Jones was strong. She was armed, and intended to kill her. Mallory was going to die.

No. Not without a fight.

She felt around her, found a peach-sized stone, smooth and heavy.

The rustling started again, then Mallory saw a patch of green, Jones' flannel jacket, and threw her stone as high and as far away as possible.

Somewhere off to the north, the rock splashed in the corn. Jones stopped, then her green flannel receded. She'd taken the bait. Now her back would be to Mallory.

Mallory slid her knife from its sheath, rose to a crouch.

“I'm going to leave here today, Mallory,” Jones was calling. “El Salvador, buy me a house on the beach.”

Keep talking, Mallory thought. Give me a target.

“No extradition, Mal. Nobody asking questions as long as you got money. You can come with me. You and Race both. New house, a new life. You ever been to the beaches in Central America, honey? I hear . . .”

Kindra's voice trailed off, and Mallory realized the clumping sound she'd heard before had become louder—a heartbeat against the earth.

The rhythm slowed to a patter, and she heard a man's voice, followed by Olsen's broken murmur.

Mallory's ears had to be deceiving her.

She glimpsed the patch of green again, directly ahead—Kindra's jacket. Mallory was considering a knife throw—remembering her four-in-ten average back in camp, Leyland telling her that was damn good for a novice. Four-in-ten, life and death, against a moving target. She was weighing those piss-poor odds when Chadwick's voice shouted her name.

There he was, rising above the corn on the back of the bay filly from Cold Springs—riding a goddamn horse, like goddamn George Washington. All her life she'd heard that's who he looked like, but she'd never seen the resemblance until now.

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The bay's coat was glossy with sweat. Chadwick's clothes were torn and water-stained as if he'd ridden through a million tree branches to get here.

Their eyes met. Mallory couldn't say anything. She couldn't warn him; she couldn't even decide if she wanted to. She thought of when she was small—how she'd believed Katherine was so lucky having Chadwick as a father, a silent, gentle giant who would always protect her. And now here he was, riding to her rescue. Mallory wanted to cry. She wanted to break down and yell at him to watch out. But she couldn't do it. She resented him. He was a false hope, a hallucination—a chemical glitch of adrenaline and hormones and heroin withdrawal. Chadwick couldn't have ridden all this way in one morning. He would've had to start at dawn, before he even knew she was in trouble.

Chadwick's eyes were trying to communicate a thousand things. Then his attention turned—he must've seen Kindra Jones. He raised an old-fashioned revolver, but Jones had had plenty of time to aim. A shot thundered, the horse whinnied in pain and toppled, taking Chadwick with it. There was a sickening crunch, then the sound of the horse huffing, thrashing through the stalks.

When the commotion died down, Mallory heard Jones say, “Well, lookee here. My partner.”

“Mallory.” Chadwick's voice was tight with pain. “Run. Get out of here.”

Mallory edged closer, knowing it was crazy. She could see through the screen of corn plants—Kindra standing over Chadwick, his leg bent at an unnatural angle. Chadwick's gun was gone. The horse was nowhere in sight. Blood painted a trail of crushed corn plants where the wounded animal must've gotten back on its hooves and run away.

Kindra paced around Chadwick, keeping the gun barrel trained on his head. “Samuel says hello, Chad. He says you should've stayed with your lady friend this morning.”

“You've got the money from Laurel Heights. Twenty-seven million dollars.”

“Not bad for an Oakland girl with a teaching degree. You find teaching rewarding, Chadwick? Shit, I do.”

“You have what you want. Walk away.”

Kindra's smile seemed sleepy, her eyes half lidded behind her glasses. “Katherine tells me you're right. She says to go on—catch my plane. She was hoping you'd stay at the hotel this morning, get caught by the FBI. I could live with that, Chadwick, knowing you'd spend the rest of your life in a fucking prison. But, see, here you are.”

Mallory heard sirens in the distance.

Kindra kept pacing, ignoring the sound. “I don't know how you got here so fast. Calls for some flexibility, but I'm flexible. Hell, ten fucking years I've lived Samuel's life as well as mine—I'm damn flexible. All those years leading up to this. Right here, with you.”

“You killed your own mother, John Zedman, Pérez. The police know about you, Kindra. Race came forward with the whole story. The police are on their way.”

She laughed, but the sound was brittle. “Race, huh? Race did that.” She yelled, “You hear him, Mallory? This killer, he blames me. He talks about the police, like he really wants to meet them. Come on out, honey. I want you to see this. Be good for you—closure, what your counselor would say. A real live abuser doll about to get crushed.”

“Forget the girl,” Chadwick said. “Let her go.”

“You shouldn't have given my little brother your card, Chadwick. Not after what you've done to my family. You shouldn't have tried to protect me from those rednecks at that truck stop. There's only one protector in my family. Only one person who can do what needs to be done. Kill that bastard Ali. Take care of Race. Take care of Kindra. Katherine's talking to me now, Chadwick. She's pleading with me to spare your sorry-ass life. But I'm finally going to get her voice out of my head. I'm going to listen to Samuel on this one.”

And Mallory suddenly understood her anger. She suddenly understood Jones. She remembered the rage that had made her take a hammer to her mother's apartment, let out nine years of hate, blaming her parents for what she'd become—for the path she'd started the night Katherine died.

The sirens kept wailing, closer now.

Mallory could run—get away clean, nothing but the dry snap of a gun discharge behind her. Nothing on her conscience. Justice served.

But she imagined Olsen's voice—Olsen, whose last words had been about trusting Chadwick. Olsen saying, Some connections, you can't break. Olsen, who was dead in a welter of blood in the front seat of the van.

“Mallory.” Chadwick spoke her name in a tone she hadn't heard for a long time—since nine years ago, when he used to talk to Katherine. “Your father loved you. He was doing everything he could to protect you. If he were here, he would tell you he's sorry. He did the wrong things for the right reasons. Please believe me, that's what he would say.”

Kindra raised her gun.

Mallory's heart shifted like a gyroscope.

She rose to her feet and rushed Jones like she was the obstacle course wall—closing five yards, the gun turning in her direction, the snap of a bullet ripping past her ear, but nothing mattered except clearing the obstacle. Mallory's shoulder slammed into Jones' chest so hard she felt ribs crack. Jones staggered backwards, collapsing into the frozen cornstalks, and Mallory gripped the knife in her hand, putting herself between Jones and Chadwick.

“Don't protect me,” Chadwick groaned. “Run.”

But Mallory had finally outgrown Chadwick's advice.

Wincing, Jones rose to a crouch, a dozen feet away. She looked dazed, but pleasantly surprised that Mallory had shown herself. “Katherine loves you, too, honey. Believe me, that's what she's saying.”

The gun was still in Jones' hand. Her eyes were amber, just like her brother's.

She raised the gun toward Mallory, and with every ounce of strength, as if with willpower alone could drive steel through the trunk of a tree, Mallory threw the knife.

37

The next week was Christmas at Cold Springs, and a front blew up from the Rio Grande, bringing dry Mexican air that smelled of sage and brush fires. Sunshine soaked the hills until rattlesnakes came out to warm themselves on the granite and the deer became nocturnal.

Chadwick spent his days proctoring White Level study halls on the main deck, learning to walk with a boot cast, and coming to terms with the fact that he'd been yanked back from the edge of the precipice. He tried to convince himself that the danger had passed, that there was nothing else he needed to do.

On Christmas Eve, Olsen was released from the hospital in San Antonio. She arrived at the lodge to find most of the staff waiting for her, holding a welcome banner the tan levels had made in art therapy class. She insisted on getting out of her wheelchair and walking the twenty feet from the parking space to the door, Asa Hunter holding her arm. She smiled as the counselors applauded, but her face was clammy white, slick with sweat from the effort.

The doctors had told her how lucky she was. The shot to the leg had missed both artery and bone. The shot meant for her gut had instead drilled a hole through the muscles of her flank, narrowly missing her intestines. The surgeon speculated that the bulkiness of Olsen's winter jacket had saved her life, obscuring her form so that Jones' shot had been off-center.

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