Cold Springs Page 8


Samuel had tried to be restrained. He had tried to forgive. And now the girl's father had broken the rules, stepped over the boundary.

He wanted a final settlement? He wanted to pay the big price?

Samuel could arrange that.

He wiped the necklace clean, then dropped it into the blood next to Talia's left breast.

2

The call haunted Chadwick all week.

Monday, he and his trainee Olsen escorted a student from Cold Springs to Hunter's Playa Verde campus in Belize. The whole flight down, the 737 angling into the sun, making hammered gold out of the Gulf of Mexico, Chadwick thought of Ann Zedman.

“It's Mallory,” she had said, her voice so thick with worry that Chadwick hardly recognized it. “I don't know who else to turn to.”

Chadwick had wanted to ask a thousand questions, but each was a jump across a nine-year chasm. He knew he couldn't make it.

Tuesday, he and Olsen flew back to the States for an escort job in Los Angeles—a Korean girl named Soo-yun who had neon-blue contact lenses, a severe case of bulimia, and the keys to her father's gun cabinet. She locked herself in the bathroom at her parents' produce market on Western Avenue. Chadwick tried to talk her out, but when that didn't work he called her bluff, busting down the door and pulling the gun out of her hands. The gun turned out to be unloaded. Soo-yun's dazed but relieved parents gave him a basket of papayas to take on the plane. That night, on the red-eye flight east, his clothes smelling of ripe fruit, Chadwick thought of Ann Zedman.

“We don't have to accept the girl,” Hunter had told him. “If it bothers you—”

“It doesn't bother me,” Chadwick answered. And the two of them had let the lie hang between them like a piñata, waiting for a stick.

Wednesday, Chadwick and Olsen dropped Soo-yun at the Bowl Ranch facility in Utah, which was equipped to deal with eating disorders, then flew west, arriving in the Bay Area after midnight.

It wasn't the first time Chadwick had been home. He'd made dozens of Bay Area pickups for Asa Hunter since he started escort work in '94, but each time Chadwick returned, he feared the familiarity of the hills, the eucalyptus smell in the air, the shadows in the canyons between downtown skyscrapers and the mist shrouding Sutro Hill. He feared the sadness that seeped into his limbs like anesthesia whenever he saw anything that reminded him of Katherine.

He and Olsen spent Thursday tracking Mallory Zedman, scouting all the locations her friends said she might be, looking for a boy she liked to hang out with, a young dealer by the name of Race Montrose. The boy's last name bothered Chadwick. He was bothered even more when one of Mallory's friends told him Race was a student at Laurel Heights. Ann hadn't mentioned either piece of information on the phone, and Chadwick tried very hard to believe he'd heard the last name wrong, or that it was simply a coincidence.

“You okay?” Olsen asked him.

He realized his hand was clenched in a fist.

“Yeah. Just praying for no more papayas.”

“You know this family, right?”

“A long time ago.”

“And?”

Chadwick folded his paperwork. He slipped a recent photo of Mallory Zedman out of his briefcase. “Take Shattuck south. There're three or four more places.”

They spotted Mallory at a sidewalk café on College and Ocean View, just south of the Berkeley city limits. She was sitting across from a tall African-American boy in a camouflage jacket.

Chadwick parked across the avenue. He and Olsen watched for twenty minutes until the boy in the camouflage got up to take his empty espresso cup into the café, leaving Mallory alone at the table.

Chadwick said, “Now.”

Olsen stuck her pepper spray canister into her denim jacket. Her hands were trembling.

“You'll do fine,” Chadwick told her.

“This is the one who attacked her mother with a hammer, right?”

Olsen was a big Swedish girl, a former college basketball player with a drill sergeant's haircut and a master's degree in child psych, but at the moment she didn't look much older or tougher than the girl they were picking up.

Chadwick said, “Don't worry.”

“Don't worry. Yeah. Okay. Her friend is a dealer. You think he'll be armed?”

“That's why we've waited. We don't want to have to hurt anyone.”

“You're kidding.”

Chadwick opened his car door, looked at her expectantly.

“You're not kidding,” she decided.

They got out of their rental car, stepped into the crosswalk.

The evening fog was snapping down over the East Bay like a Tupperware lid, muting the sound of the BART trains at Rockridge station, the hum of traffic on Highway 24. The air smelled of roasting coffee and fresh-cut freesia.

Chadwick was glad for the commuters on College—the moms with strollers, the black-clad students on their way to the bookstore or the burrito shop. When you're six-foot-eight you welcome all the help you can get covering your approach.

At the café table, Mallory Zedman was studying a chessboard, her middle finger resting on the head of a white pawn.

She was fifteen now. Her blond hair had been dyed a combination of orange and black, thin braided strands of it looping above her ears like racing stripes. Her face had filled in, making her look more like her mother, but she still had the sharp nose and intense eyes of her father—eyes that could go from humor to anger in a millisecond. Her biker jacket was too big for her, her tattered jeans rolled up several times at the ankles. The skin under her eyes was pneumonia blue, and the way she shivered, Chadwick figured she was hungry for her next fix.

He tried to imagine her as a small bundle of energy in an oversized T-shirt, shouting with glee as she flew onto Katherine's bed. But that little girl was gone.

“Mallory,” he said.

She looked up.

No recognition—just fear. She glanced inside the café window, saw her friend Race with his back turned, talking to the guy at the espresso machine.

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“That's not my name,” Mallory said.

Then she looked at him more closely, and her wariness eroded into bewilderment. “Chadwick?”

“Long time, sweetheart. This is my colleague, Ms. Olsen.”

“What are you—” The color drained from her face. “Don't hurt Race. He didn't do anything. My father's lying to you.”

“Easy, sweetheart.”

Mallory started to get up.

Olsen made the mistake of coming around the table, taking Mallory's arm. Mallory yanked away, overturning the plastic chair.

“We're not going to hurt anybody,” Chadwick assured her. “Your mother hired us. We're escorting you to a boarding school—Cold Springs Academy.”

“A boarding . . . you're fucking crazy. You're shitting me.”

Inside the café, Mallory's friend in camouflage hadn't turned around yet, but it was only a matter of seconds.

“Your mother's made the decision, sweetheart,” Chadwick said. “Cold Springs is a good place to turn your life around.”

“I don't need turning around.”

“You're living on the street with a drug dealer,” he reminded her. “Is that where you want to be?”

Mallory glared down at the chessboard—a lopsided game in progress, her white pieces sweeping the board.

“He's not a dealer,” she said. “He's my friend.”

Chadwick heard no conviction in her voice. She was a little girl, trying to explain a nightmare.

“Let's talk in the car,” he said.

“His mother was killed. She fucking died, Chadwick.”

“Okay, honey.”

“I can't leave him. He's in trouble. It's my fucking fault.”

“Okay, honey. Okay.”

A few people at the inside tables were now watching them through the glass. Olsen kept a nervous eye on the guy in camouflage.

Chadwick willed the young dealer to keep chatting up the espresso guy. He willed Olsen to stay put—don't press the girl. Don't ruin it.

“Mallory,” he said, “we can work it all out. I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe this was the best thing for you. Come with us.”

Chadwick could feel the situation teetering. Mallory was about to crumble, to let herself be a kid again and cry, probably for the first time since she'd run away from her mother.

Then the camouflage boy, Race, turned and saw them.

Olsen made a small noise in her throat like a bedspring snapping loose.

“Get in the car,” she told Mallory. “Now.”

She grabbed Mallory's arm, but underestimated the strength of a desperate kid.

With all ninety pounds of her body weight, Mallory shoved Olsen away, into the table, which collapsed under her. Chess pieces clattered down the sidewalk and Mallory took off up Ocean View.

Chadwick saw things unfold in slow motion—Race coming out the door, reaching into his jacket; Olsen scrambling up, not ready to defend herself; Mallory Zedman ducking into the alley behind the café dumpster.

Chadwick cursed, but he had to let Mallory run.

Race came around the corner.

Chadwick registered the boy's features with the instant clarity you get when looking at a person who is trying to kill you—nappy rust hair, jawline like a lightning bolt, Arabic nose and eyes as hard and bright as amber.

Race's face transfixed him, resonating with an old, dark memory even as the gun came out of the boy's coat, the muzzle rising toward his head.

Chadwick only unfroze when Olsen screamed his name.

His right fist caught Race in the nose, his left coming from underneath, hitting the kid's gut hard enough to slam him backwards onto the sidewalk, where he curled into a combat-colored heap, the gun clattering into the street.

Olsen looked at Chadwick, her eyes blank.

“Come on,” he told her, then he ran.

Chadwick had lost precious time, but his stride carried him well. He saw Mallory at the opposite end of the alley. She crashed into a sidewalk flower seller, knocked over a bucket of yellow roses, dashed into the street and barely missed getting run over by an SUV.

Chadwick started closing the distance. When he came out of the alley, Mallory was pounding up the steps of the BART station sandwiched between lanes of traffic on the Highway 24 overpass.

An eastbound train was pulling into the platform. Mallory could easily be on board before he got there.

Chadwick ran, kicked up a cloud of pigeons, took the stairs four at a time. He got into the terminal in time to hear the station manager yell, “Hey!” and see Mallory hurdle the turnstile.

Chadwick yelled, “She's mine!” and jumped the gate.

The BART manager yelled, “HEY!” with more outrage.

The escalators to the platform were all moving the wrong way. This was the evening commute—everybody coming back to Rockridge, not going out. Chadwick got up top, did a quick visual sweep. The wind and the cold were intense, the view stunning—hills streaked with fog, lights of houses like fairy glow; the Oakland-Berkeley flatlands spread out to the west, trickling to a point at the red and silver lights of the Bay Bridge; the Bay itself, an expanse of liquid aluminum.

Then he spotted Mallory—thirty yards down the platform, pounding on the closed doors of the train, trying to get in. She pried at the rubber seal with her fingers. The train slid away, pulling Mallory with it for a few feet before she stumbled backwards, cursing.

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