Cold Springs Page 59


He crossed the basketball court to where Norma stood.

She studied his face, his beige overcoat, his sand-colored clothes. Her eyes lingered on the boot cast.

“How much longer?” she asked.

“Six weeks. Old bones knit slowly.”

“It hurt?”

“I've had worse. You should see the bruises from my ex-wife.”

“The least that could've happened,” Norma said, “is they break your jaw and wire your mouth shut. But no.”

“You thought about my offer?”

She looked down at the chunks of shattered asphalt, the tree roots and dirt clods and stones—a small, carefully planned upheaval, a single-serving earthquake.

“Yeah.” She propped the shovel handle against the fence. “Yeah, I thought about it. I finally learn how to hate you, and you pull something like that.”

“I'm selling, regardless. If you'd rather, you can buy me out, keep the house . . .”

Her eyes burned with a small dark horror—the afterimage, Chadwick supposed, of the moment she'd opened the cupboard in the Mission house, let loose a spill of plastic and black hair and pale flesh that had resolved itself into the face of a friend. She said, “John used to say you only find one home in your lifetime—one true home.”

“John also said never trust a Realtor.”

“Send me the papers. I'll arrange the sale.”

“And the college scholarship fund?”

“I'll be the trustee,” she agreed. “Race will be the first recipient. The other Laurel Heights parents won't like that much, with me applying to be his legal guardian.”

Chadwick heard the nervousness in her voice. He knew Norma faced an uphill battle in the courts, even if she could provide Race a home that was better than his grandmother's, much better than a foster home. She might lose her bid for custody, but she was trying. She had put herself on the line, opened herself up for hurt, because she wanted to help the boy. That in itself was a victory.

“The other parents,” Chadwick told her, “can kiss my boot cast.”

Norma wiped at the corners of her eyes. “Shit. I'm going to hope John was wrong about only getting one home, okay? I'm going to hope that for both of us.”

She stood on her tiptoes, kissed him roughly on the cheek, then pushed him away. “Now get the hell out of here, will you? Hijo, you're worse than a broken mirror for luck.”

He knew it would be the last time he'd ever see her, and she left his life just as she'd arrived—dismissing him, heading off to the party with the same determination as when she'd grabbed his wrist in a Los Angeles beer joint, twenty-eight years before, and dragged him out on the dance floor.

He stood alone at the lip of the broken asphalt, feeling warmer than he should have in the January chill. He didn't notice Ann until she walked back to the speaker's podium and turned off the microphone.

“Closure?” she asked him.

“As much as I can hope for.”

She slipped a tape into the cassette player of the PA system, turned up the volume. The ethereal guitar work of Pat Metheny—as desolate and expansive as the Texas plains—drifted across the courtyard. Jazz drums set children bouncing on the play structure's clatter bridge.

“She'll do it, you know,” Ann told him. “Norma will get custody of Race. They'll take care of each other. He'll graduate at the top of his class.”

Chadwick listened for jealousy, or resentment. Ann would've been entitled. She'd been shunned by her own daughter, forced to officially expel her from Laurel Heights, thanks to the incident with the gun. Now she would pay the bulk of her salary for months, possibly for the rest of Mallory's high school career, to get Mallory through a program where Ann had no part, where her daughter would become someone she did not know, while Race Montrose finished his high school career in the program Ann had built.

But there was no bitterness in her voice. Nothing except that new sense of authority—clean and hard and hollow like the bore of a cannon.

“Mallory will make it, too,” Chadwick said. “Maybe not the way you envisioned, but she'll make it.”

Ann was conscious of her audience—the whole school community on the yard, the gossipers watching. Still, her eyes betrayed a touch of strain, of need.

“You belong in the classroom,” she told him. “There's no reason for you to stay away from San Francisco now. You could teach here again. This is your home.”

He watched children playing in the yard, three young girls turning the tire swing so fast they were a blur of ponytails and skirts. He tried to imagine these girls older, in trouble, on drugs, being picked up in the middle of the night by a stone-faced escort—someone like him. He couldn't imagine it. That was the problem—you never could, until it happened.

“This used to be my home,” he said. “Not anymore.”

“And me?”

The Pat Metheny song kept playing.

Chadwick said, “You're the most important person in the world to me.”

“But you're leaving.”

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“Yes.”

“Because I didn't trust you—the morning you went after Mallory?”

“No. Because you wanted to trust me. Because I want to trust you, too. I've looked up to you for most of my life. No relationship could hold up under that much pressure.”

“I love you,” she said.

He didn't meet her eyes. He didn't want to admit how close he was to caving in, his willpower whittled so thin it bent like a willow branch. It wasn't fair to choose between Laurel Heights and Cold Springs—between what he wanted, and what was good for him.

“I remember a seventeen-year-old girl,” he said, “who would've scolded you for saying that.”

“The girl grew up. But not in the way I envisioned.”

Chadwick thought he heard relief in her voice. There was nothing else for her now, nothing between her and her school. Chadwick had snipped the last possible tether.

He held out his hand, and Ann grasped it. He could've been a visiting parent, or a reporter, or anyone who had come to the school for official business, and was now on his way out.

Mark Jasper came up, wanting to introduce Ann to someone, and Chadwick moved back toward the building, taking his time on his wounded leg. He climbed halfway up the stairs, where Olsen sat eating a sugar cookie.

“Well?” she asked.

“Two women—neither one slapped me.”

“A record.”

Over on the deck, the upperclassmen were clowning around, slipping pieces of ice down each other's shirts. Race Montrose stood to one side—not getting teased, not participating, just standing there in his church clothes, staring into his lemonade.

“You said hello to him?” Olsen asked.

“Not yet.”

“You need to.”

He met her eyes, and the truth clicked, like the gears in one of his father's clocks. He knew he hadn't been imagining her hesitation all week. He knew what she'd been struggling to say, and it was the same thing he'd been struggling to say for years. She was giving him a chance to go first.

“I lied to you,” he said. His voice seemed to be coming out of someone else's mouth.

Olsen brushed a crumb from the edge of her mouth. “I know.”

“When?”

“A few days ago. Bits and pieces have been falling into place for a month—talking to you, talking to Mallory, seeing you from two different angles.”

“If you knew, why did you agree to be my partner again?”

She turned her face toward the upper windows of the school, where the long winter sun was streaking the glass the color of coins.

“You remind me of my stepdad,” she said. “I think I'm supposed to make it work with you. I'm supposed to be your partner, because to do that, I have to drop some serious emotional ballast. I have to be honest with myself about my past, forgive myself. Maybe it's time you did the same.”

The tire swing spun—right where John Zedman had stood wearing his kindergarten quilt, laughing and drinking champagne like there was every reason to celebrate, like guilt was not a predator that could follow a scent.

“You want the truth to come out,” Olsen said. “You tried to tell me, through that story about Thailand. There was no boy in Thailand. Hunter and you never killed anyone on guard duty. You wouldn't have let yourself get set up and framed, you wouldn't have pursued the blackmailer in the first place, if you didn't know in your heart you wanted to be discovered.”

For years, Chadwick had known the hook was embedded in his mouth—waiting for him to betray the slightest tremor, the least resistance on the line. But now that the truth was tugging at him, he was surprised to feel no fear. He was being reeled out of the pressure of the river bottom, back toward the surface, out of the darkness.

“Katherine thought she loved Samuel Montrose,” he said. “He was mean-spirited—evil. He used my daughter, got her hooked on heroin. He was taking her apart, just for the fun of doing it.”

“And you found this out before she died, not after.”

Chadwick closed his eyes. He remembered the car ride from Oakland, Katherine telling him so much to hurt him, so much he didn't want to hear.

“A week before,” he replied. “I didn't know what to do. I could feel her just slipping away.”

“You didn't do nothing, like your wife thought. You talked to John Zedman.”

“John said we could take care of it. John's style was to confront people, make them back off. He and I went to Oakland. We tracked down Samuel, found him in the building where he dealt drugs, the same place his grandmother still lives. He was more than we'd bargained for. We argued with him. I just wanted him to leave Katherine alone. I wanted him out of her life. He pulled a gun.”

“And so did you.”

“I did, but I didn't have time to use it. John . . . he took out a .22. I didn't even know he'd brought it. He shot Samuel in the gut. Samuel kept coming. But he didn't fire. John fired twice more, hit the kid in the chest. I remember Samuel turning from the force, turning toward me, like he wanted me to see what had happened to him. And after he fell, I watched while John pointed the gun at Samuel's head. Only afterward, we realized the gun Samuel pulled wasn't even loaded. He'd been bluffing.”

Chadwick couldn't read Olsen's face. Like a good counselor, she kept her expression nonjudgmental, calm in the face of atrocity. “You covered for Zedman. You became an accomplice to murder.”

“John was terrified. He panicked when I suggested calling the police. He kept talking about his reputation, his family. He kept reminding me that he'd done it for me. We both knew the police would never buy self-defense. It would look like we'd hunted Samuel down and executed him. So we wrapped the body—we got it into the car. We dumped it in the Bay.”

“But Katherine knew.”

“She suspected. I couldn't hide the guilt in my face. I didn't admit to anything. Katherine didn't exactly confront me, but . . . she knew. I went to Texas to try to decide what to do. I was planning on telling Norma when I got back, taking prison time if I had to. I half expected Katherine to call the police herself. But when I got home, before I could send her to Cold Springs, she killed herself. Nine years, people have been telling me her death wasn't my fault. But it was.”

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