Back at the car, by silent agreement, Chadwick took the wheel. His hands were numb, his vision tunneled to the stripe in the road and the feet of pedestrians in the crosswalk. He didn't look at Kindra, didn't pay much attention when she took out her cell phone and had a hushed conversation with somebody named Clarisse, something about whether or not King Hunan still served coconut chicken. Blocks later, after she'd hung up and they were well into Berkeley, she said, “Pull over. You're dropping me here.”
“Just do it.”
He wedged the car into a loading zone on College and Ashby. Kindra opened her door, put one foot outside, turned back.
“I got some friends in Teach for America,” she told him. “They live right down the street. We're going out to dinner now—that'll give you a few hours to yourself.”
“Because it beats me slugging you,” she said tightly. “What were you thinking—messing with that boy's mind?”
“Oh come on, Chad. ‘You want anything, call.' Please. His mama's dead. You saw his grandmother. That kid has been jerked around enough without your false sympathy.”
“I meant what I said.”
“I liked you better when you were honest—when you were worried you'd turn him in and feel good about it.”
Down the street, the distant white Campanile of UC Berkeley glowed in the afternoon light. Chadwick wished he could explain to Kindra, but he knew he couldn't. Race Montrose and his dead mother tore at his soul, his conscience.
“Race wasn't telling the truth,” Chadwick said. “I had to press him.”
“You think—” Jones stopped herself, bit back her words.
“What were you going to say?”
“You pushed that kid until he told you about his brother. You get what you want—you get to take the guilt for your daughter. All the guilt you can eat. You push him and now you think he's lying. Maybe you should've pushed your rich friend as much as you pushed that kid.”
“You left him, Chad. He told you to leave, so you did. Real question you didn't ask the kid—what the fuck is the blackmail about? They been messing with Zedman for years, haven't they? And I think you got an idea what your friend was into. The man wanted to tell you, too, but he couldn't do it with me and that crazy asshole, Pérez, there. You ask me, you ran from the hard choice, and you're a fool if you don't go see him again, try to get him alone. That's why I'm going out to dinner. Give you a chance to do something right for a change. Now get lost. I'll meet you—what, about nine. Montgomery Street station.”
Chadwick waited for his stomach to stop twisting. She was right, of course. He was starting to understand, and he didn't want to.
“You all right on BART?” he asked.
Jones sighed. “Yeah. Of course.”
“Ashby is the closest station from here,” Chadwick offered.
“I know that.”
They stewed in silence.
“Look,” Kindra said. “I come from a big family. I got little brothers, too, okay? I guess seeing Race just tugged at me a little more than I realized. I didn't mean to razz you.”
“You could come to dinner with me and my friends,” Jones offered, without enthusiasm. “Forget what I said.”
“All right.” Jones' voice was suddenly tight again. “No problem. Nine o'clock.”
She got out and slammed the door.
Chadwick watched her push through the pedestrian traffic toward a Chinese restaurant, and disappear inside. He pulled away from the curb and headed back toward the Bay Bridge, telling himself he had no destination in mind, but knowing exactly where the road would take him, whether he wanted it to or not.
John Zedman dreamed of a blasted-out apartment building—the kind of property he would purchase only if he were preparing it for the wrecking ball.
In the dream, he stood high up on one of the top floors, the interior walls stripped away, the windows gutted so that the night wind ripped through his jacket and sweater. In the distance, the lights of the hills shimmered like birthday candles.
He was holding his .22 pistol to Chadwick's forehead—his old friend Chadwick, who had lashed their lives together like burning galleons, slept with his wife, destroyed his family.
Chadwick knelt before him, eyes downcast, waiting for John's decision.
John's trigger finger tightened of its own volition, like wet rope contracting in the sun.
He woke up and his hand hurt from squeezing on the gun, but it wasn't a gun. He was holding a Laurel Heights yearbook. He had fallen asleep looking at pictures from Mallory's kindergarten year, the only year they'd all been together—Mallory, Katherine, Ann, Chadwick. All of them alive and well at the same school. Nineteen ninety-three. Snapshots from the end of time.
John remembered thinking, in 1993, We can take care of this.
He remembered his confidence, the giddy feeling that came from riding a wave of financial success, feeling as invulnerable as a god or a sixteen-year-old driver. But the memory was cold and empty. That had been some other man, someone who had withered and died the same night as Katherine Chadwick.
Even those last hours at the auction, buying Chadwick a drink, sparring with him on the playground, John had had a sense of foreboding. He'd known then that his life would come to this—his family disintegrated, his friends gone, replaced by hirelings.
All he cared about was Mallory, but the past nine years he'd had another child to nurture—his own guilt growing inside him, a burden so huge it sometimes flipped into anger, made him drink and smash picture frames and lash out at the only people who mattered. He had hit his wife. He had threatened his daughter. He had done much worse.
He wanted to explain to Chadwick that he didn't hate Race Montrose. He had paid for Race's tuition willingly; he'd felt almost relieved when the first blackmail letter came, years ago.
He was a father, goddamn it. He understood that the child was not to blame. He hadn't held a grudge against the boy, at least not at first.
Even when Mallory and Race got out of control, when Race Montrose had ruined his daughter, taught her to shoot up drugs and call her parents filthy names and unlatch windows at night to escape, John had tried to save her peacefully. He'd offered Talia Montrose money rather than unleashing Pérez. He'd been sure, then, that the letters were from Talia. He couldn't explain it, any more than he could explain how he knew when a buyer would close a deal, but he had sensed the voice of an angry mother behind those letters. So he had met with her face-to-face, treated her like a human being. And his plan had gone wrong. He had misjudged fatally.
He swallowed the cottony taste from his mouth, stared out his living room window at the sunrise until he realized with sickening disorientation that it was the sunset. He had fallen asleep after a Valium and half a bottle of wine—that same damn Chardonnay he'd meant to share with Norma Reyes—and after all that, he hadn't even managed to sleep the night. He'd taken a nap. A goddamn nap, like an old man.
He sat up. Someone was tapping a carpet tack into his left temple.
On the table, a silver lighter and a packet of tissues sat in a ceramic ashtray—the only piece of Ann's ceramic collection she'd forgotten to take when she moved out. Or maybe she'd left it on purpose. You keep the ashtray, John. Figure it out.
John didn't smoke, didn't know anybody who smoked, but he kept the ashtray on his coffee table. He picked up the lighter, dug a tissue from the pack.
John sparked the lighter. He held his tissue to the flame and threw it in the air. It erupted into an orange tangle of thread and disappeared, the ashes so small they might have been dust motes.
Children loved that trick. Women, too, smiling even as they scolded him: You'll give them bad ideas. The problem was the tissue went too fast. Less than a second, and the show was over.
He tossed the lighter back in the ashtray and went out to the deck. The surf pounded cold and steady below. The wind was picking up. The day had been warm, but that was changing. The winter was remembering itself.
He almost called for Pérez to fetch him a coat, then he remembered Pérez was gone on his errand.
The thing in his stomach—the child-sized burden of guilt—began turning, kicking its small feet. Even if Chadwick was punishing him, even if the worst was true—how could he blame Chadwick? He deserved everything he got. Why had he told Pérez to act?
The safety of his daughter, he reminded himself. That made it necessary. He had to protect his daughter.
He had already planned their escape.
He would keep the money in the Seychelles account. Pérez would rescue Mallory, bring her to him. This time, he wouldn't wait for the courts to let him have his daughter. He would take her.
Fathers kidnapped their own daughters all the time. He read the papers. And most of those fathers did not have his resources.
Why hadn't he done this years ago? Cowardice. The need to be vindicated in his hometown, to win against Ann, to show he was not a quitter. But fuck all that. He and Mallory would just start again elsewhere. They would create a new home, a new life. If Chadwick could escape the past, then so could he.
He tried to taste the impending success of his plan, the way he could have years ago, but now it was salted with doubt. The FBI had already called—a special agent named Laramie who wanted to talk to him tomorrow about the Laurel Heights fund. Just procedure, his friends in the County Sheriff's Department assured him. But the Sheriff's Department could not protect him from this. He would have to be cool. He would have to be the consummate actor, the man who unloaded worthless blocks of real estate for billions, leaving the buyers certain they had discovered the next hub of a commercial renaissance. No more slip-ups. No weakness. He just had to get through a few more days alone, until Pérez came back with his daughter and the news that an old friend was dead.
He heard the distant rock-tumbler sound of car tires pulling up his drive, and he felt a spark of hope that it was Pérez. But that was impossible. Pérez would still be on his way to Texas.
Then, a warmer sensation hit him—Chadwick was coming back to apologize. Of course he was. John had heard the brittleness in his voice when he was last here. Chadwick wouldn't let things stand the way they were. He understood now how much John was suffering—what Chadwick had pushed him to. He would come back, and they would make amends. John would say, “It's a good thing. I was about to have you killed.” And Chadwick, simple old Chadwick who always needed John to lead—he would wonder forever if John had been joking.
The doorbell chimed.
John went to answer it, a hopeful smile forming on his lips for the first time in weeks.
The begonias in front of the house had been dying for a long damn time—dried leaves and flowers crusted so thick the new pink blooms looked like insects trapped emerging from their shells.
Samuel usually wouldn't have noticed, but he'd been thinking about Katherine all week. And those begonias were the kind of thing she got jacked up about.
He knelt down, picked a few of the withered petals, broke the cobwebs between the planter and the wall. Katherine whispered inside his head, talking the way she'd talked the last night she came to the West Oakland house—about dead morning glories and palm trees freezing and how she wanted to drift away into a garden somewhere and never come back.