Cold Springs Page 9


Chadwick closed in, pushing against the wave of exit-bound commuters. Mallory stared at him like a cornered possum.

Another train was coming from the hills—its yellow headlights just now visible in the east. Chadwick would have Mallory in hand before it reached the station.

Mallory moved back, to the very end of the platform, then glanced across the rail pit—at the chain link fence that separated the station from the highway.

Don't be crazy, Chadwick thought.

Mallory jumped.

She hit the fence, but failed to hold on to it and tumbled back into the rail pit, her back slamming into the metal, money spilling out of her coat pocket—a brick of cash. Her foot was inches from the electric third rail.

The train was coming fast—only a quarter mile away now. Chadwick could see the lights of the operator's car, hear the electric blare of his horn.

“Give me your hand!” Chadwick yelled.

Mallory wasn't getting up. The look in her eyes told Chadwick her paralysis was more than physical—she had decided she wasn't going anywhere.

Chadwick jumped into the pit, picked her up like a sack of apples and heaved her onto the platform, another stack of currency tumbling out of her coat. Chadwick turned, saw the train bearing down on him—saw the eyes on the driver's face, white with terror—not even considering the possibility of so sudden a stop, and Chadwick pulled himself out of the pit.

The wind of the train ripped at his clothes. A funnel cloud of money spun into the air.

Chadwick lay unhurt, on top of Mallory Zedman, who made a poor pillow.

He sat up as the train's doors sucked open, and found himself face-to-knees with a cluster of passengers who hesitated, stared at the money falling from the sky, then parted around Chadwick as if he were a rock in the current. Nothing can surprise a Bay Area commuter for long.

Chadwick looked toward the station, saw a dour-faced BART policeman running up, the station manager, Olsen behind them, limping.

Underneath him, Mallory Zedman wept, as fives and tens fluttered around them, snagging on the shoes of commuters and the doors of the westbound train as it pulled away.

3

“Mr. Z, the police are here.”

John stood on his deck, reading the latest letter.

He closed his eyes, found that the words still burned in front of him, white in the dark. A reverse image, like every other fucking thing in his life.

“Boss?”

Emilio Pérez was squinting at him through the red glare of the sun, the shoulders of his leather jacket glistening like butchered meat.

“Which police?” John asked.

“The one from Oakland again, Damarodas. One of ours, Prost, holding his leash.”

John stared down the side of the hill toward the Pacific. There'd been a time when this view meant something to him—the acres of blue and green ice plants, the jagged profile of the Marin headlands, the cold churn of the surf two hundred feet below. He crumpled the paper into a tight ball, tossed it into the sunset.

“What'd it say?” Pérez asked.

John wondered why he'd ever let Pérez into his confidences. How low had he sunk, that he needed consolation from his hired help?

“You wanted to read it,” he said, “go get it.”

Pérez's neck muscles tightened. “All I'm saying, you been taking that shit too long. You let me deal with it—”

“Emilio.”

Pérez stared down at the ocean, his razor-thin mustache and goatee too delicate for his face, like lipstick on a bull. “They're in the living room, Boss.”

Then he stood aside, his right hand flexing as if closing around a metal pipe.

Sergeant Damarodas of Oakland Homicide was an unimpressive man. He had unruly brown hair and a clearance-rack suit of no particular color and a doughy face that was forgettable except for the eyes. All his charisma had drained into his eyes, which were atmospheric blue and dangerously intelligent.

He stood by the white linen sofa, drinking coffee Pérez must've offered him, examining the glass-framed quilt that hung next to the fireplace. The Marin County detective Prost hovered behind him, watching Damarodas' hands as if to make sure he didn't steal anything.

John tried to remember if he'd met Prost before. John gave generously to the department's retirement fund. He remembered them at Christmas, played golf with the sheriff. After a while, all the deputies had become facets of the same entity to him—a huge, friendly guard dog nuzzling his hand.

“I'm sorry, Mr. Z,” Prost said. “I tried telling the sergeant—”

“Quite all right, Detective. Sergeant Damarodas, tell me some good news. You've arrested the Montrose boy.”

Damarodas gestured toward the quilt on the wall. “Local artist, sir?”

“My daughter's kindergarten class.”

Damarodas' eyes sparkled. “That's a relief. Here I was thinking, this looks like it was done by a six-year-old. And it was. So much of the art these days, you can't tell.”

Damarodas smiled into the silence he'd created.

“Sergeant,” John said, “was there something you wanted to discuss?”

Damarodas set down his coffee cup, turned the handle so it pointed toward John. “Actually, sir, I wanted to ask you a real estate question.”

“You're in the high-end market for a home, Sergeant?”

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“No, sir. We found out where the money came from.”

“The money.”

“In Talia Montrose's account.” Damarodas raised his eyebrows. “I'm sorry to bother you with all these details. You do remember Talia Montrose. She's the woman who was knifed to death.”

“Yes, Sergeant,” John said. “I remember.”

“Maybe I mentioned somebody opened a new checking account for her—deposited two hundred and thirty grand in it. We think she probably had the rest with her, in cash, when she was murdered.”

“The rest.”

“Mrs. Montrose acquired the money by selling her house. Title was processed this week. Some development corporation bought the place—paper corporation, we're still trying to find the real owners. They immediately sold it at a loss to a Realtor in Berkeley. Would you say the Montrose house was worth a quarter of a million?”

“I'd have to see the house.”

“Never picked your daughter up there? Never visited?”

“No.”

“Your—uh—driver, Mr. Pérez, ever pick her up there?”

“No.”

“Your daughter was friends with her son for how long—about six, seven years?”

“Sergeant,” Prost intervened. “Mr. Zedman said no. Twice.”

“My apologies,” Damarodas said. “Mr. Zedman, one Realtor I spoke to told me the Montrose place wouldn't sell for more than a hundred grand, tops.”

“Why are you telling me this, Sergeant?”

“Thought you could help me understand how Mrs. Montrose got such a good deal.”

“Ask her family.”

A tick started in the corner of Damarodas' eye. “Love to. You wouldn't happen to know where they are?”

“No idea.”

“Funny. I get that answer a lot. Neighbors can't even tell me how many kids she had. Talia Montrose's mother—you ever had the pleasure?”

“No.”

“She supposedly took care of the grandkids from time to time—turns out she's an unmedicated schizophrenic. Morning I talked to her she was busy swatting pink cockroaches out of her dress, couldn't really answer my questions. That leaves us with Race, who hasn't been seen since the murder. A boyfriend, Vincent, seems to have left town. And of course, your daughter.”

“My daughter has nothing to do with this.”

“Probably not. Probably we could clear this up if we could ask her a few questions, seeing as Race was her best friend . . .”

“Classmates.” John said the word with distaste. “Not best friends.”

“Okay,” Damarodas agreed. “Classmates who were staying together for several nights. Her personal effects were found at the crime scene. Her voice was on the 911 tape reporting the murder. She and Race disappeared before the patrol officers arrived—”

“Sergeant,” Detective Prost broke in again.

Damarodas paused from ticking off the items on his fingers, his index finger hooked on his pinky. “You haven't heard from your daughter, Mr. Zedman?”

John hated that his lips were quivering. He hated that this insignificant man could make him nervous. “I told you, Sergeant. Mallory only comes here every other weekend. Her mother has full custody.”

Damarodas nodded, looking disappointed. “My mistake, then. I came out here thinking perhaps you'd heard from Mallory today. I thought she would be here.”

“And why would you think that?”

“We had a lead on your daughter,” Damarodas said. “A possible sighting.”

“A sighting.”

“We're still piecing things together. This just happened about an hour ago.”

John resisted the urge to ask. Damarodas wanted him to ask—wanted that little bit of power—but John wasn't going to give him the satisfaction.

“The BART police,” Damarodas said at last. “A supervisor I know, he called me, reported a girl matching your daughter's description at Rockridge station. Apparently she made an impression with the officer on duty. Jumped a turnstile, spilled cash all over the platform, threw herself into the rail pit. She was pulled out by a large man—white guy, like six-six, six-seven, blond buzz cut, beige overcoat. Said he was picking the girl up for her parents, had paperwork to prove it. They let him go. Supervisor heard about it, made the connection, called me. I figured the girl would be back here by now.”

Zedman's throat was closing up. He couldn't breathe. Damarodas' eyes were like the air at thirty thousand feet—clear and thin and inhospitably bright. He wanted to put them out with a poker.

“Sir?” Damarodas said. “You know this guy?”

“I hired no one to pick up my daughter.”

“Your ex-wife, then?”

John had a sudden, vivid memory of holding Mallory the day she was born, stroking his thumb over the warm velvet of her forehead, the blond fuzz of her scalp, understanding what it was like to love somebody so much you would take a bullet for her.

He remembered the night Katherine had died—rushing back to the Mission, scooping up Mallory and holding her in that big black leather chair while she trembled, so small and cold, John knowing even then that something inside her had broken. In the next room, Chadwick had been sobbing, his fingers curled in the fabric of Katherine's empty bed, and John had vowed—Nothing else will ever happen to my girl. I will never again let Mallory out of my sight.

He swallowed his bitterness, the coppery taste of failure. He thought about the demands in the latest letter. He thought about Chadwick, coming back into his life, taking his daughter.

“I know the man you're describing, Sergeant. My ex-wife must've hired him.”

John told him about Chadwick, what he knew about Chadwick's job in Texas, which wasn't much—bits and pieces of gossip from Norma, rumors of his pathetic self-imposed exile that they shook their heads over when they had lunch in the city.

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