Was Samuel going crazy?
Way he saw it, when somebody important died—didn't matter if you loved them or murdered them—you'd better take something from them. You'd better eat a little bit of their soul. Otherwise they were just gone—couldn't help you, couldn't change their mistakes—and thinking about that made Samuel uneasy. His mind started teetering on its high wire, the safety net down below unraveling in the darkness.
He looked up at John Zedman's door, felt his anger building again.
The week hadn't been easy. Between Zedman calling, trying to weasel out of the deal. Then Race betraying him, talking to that bitch Norma Reyes. Samuel didn't like people running from him, trying to slip out from under his control. If they did that too often, the way Talia had, they'd force him to pin them down for good.
He rang the doorbell, heard it fill the house with a long, tuning fork hum.
Down in the driveway was the blue sedan he'd rented—nondescript, nice big trunk, backed up as close to the house as Samuel could pull it. Cost him a shitload of money, renting it for two weeks, letting it sit in a parking garage near his condo, but Samuel hadn't known when he'd need it, and he knew he'd need it at a moment's notice. Tonight, the investment would pay off.
He heard somebody coming to the door, saw a shadow on the glass.
He slipped the DVD disc out of his left coat pocket—in case he got John. His other hand stayed in his right pocket, tightening around the grip of his pistol, in case he got Pérez.
John Zedman opened the door. His expectant, waiting-for-his-mistress kind of smile faded quickly.
“Hey,” Samuel said.
“What are you doing here?”
John had been drinking, that bad boy. His eyes were bloodshot, his nose webbed with capillaries. The way he stood blocking the doorway—nervous and pale, glancing down the street like he was looking for the cavalry—Samuel knew Pérez wasn't there. John had sent him away, maybe, so he could have time alone to think. Or better yet—maybe John was hoping Chadwick would come back.
“I'm with the prize patrol,” Samuel told him. “Invite me in.”
“Why the hell should I?”
He raised the movie disc. “It's about Chadwick.”
John's eyes latched on the DVD—not understanding, but hungry to, like an addict, like Katherine, the last night she'd visited.
He stepped back from his doorway.
There was a faint burning smell in the living room—the back windows were open to the sunset, the ocean turning the color of beer.
“Well?” Zedman demanded.
“Talk to me about the money.”
Zedman stole another glance at the DVD. He rubbed his fingers on the tail of his dress shirt. “You've got bad information. I don't know—”
“—what I'm talking about? Not what you said when you called Friday, John. Not what you said at all.”
Disbelief took over Zedman's face slowly, gripping it like a shot of novocaine. Samuel knew what he was thinking: This couldn't be who I've been afraid of.
Samuel had expected that. He was used to being underestimated.
“Chadwick sent you,” John said. “Is that it?”
“Sorry, John. Working this solo, and you don't even get why, do you?”
Zedman looked old and bent in that wrinkled tank top, those baggy pajama bottoms—like he should be using a walker.
“I'll see you buried,” he said. “I'll call the police—”
“And tell them what, John—how you stole twenty-seven million? How we know each other?”
Zedman's fists balled, his face turned the color of his dying begonias. “You couldn't do this alone. You wouldn't have the first clue.”
“You know, for a millionaire, you're a stupid fuck.”
Zedman charged him, but Samuel had been expecting that, too. His gun was already out of his pocket.
He pistol-whipped John across the left cheek, slammed him into the side of the fireplace.
John clawed his way up, but Samuel smashed the butt of the gun into his mouth, sent him back to the carpet.
Shit, he told himself. Slow down. Not here.
Zedman was kicking his legs feebly, trying to get up again. His upper lip had split open, blood making a stalactite down his chin, spattering the white bricks of the fireplace.
Samuel stared at the spots of blood, but he wasn't thinking of John Zedman. He was remembering Talia's house on a cold night with his little brothers yelling and stomping in the bedroom, Talia's music going in the kitchen while she argued with Ali. And Katherine coming in the door, crying, her lips cold when she kissed his cheek, saying: “This has to be the last time. Please. The last time, I promise. They found my stash.”
She told him why she was crying, why her father had gone to Texas, why she wanted to die—and Samuel tried to keep his anger from showing. Not just anger at Chadwick, but at Katherine, too. She was leaving him, after all that had happened. So he got her what she asked for, but something special, the uncut Colombian white, telling her, “This batch is a little weak.”
Standing on the porch, telling her goodbye, he had looked down at the little blue Toyota, dented up and smoking like a two-dollar pipe bomb, and saw the little girl's face in the window, just for an instant—the little girl who was Race's age. Samuel thinking, They get to leave. They drive across the bridge and leave us like a zoo exhibit.
Samuel and Race and the rest of his family alone—unprotected, with Ali treating their mother like a side of beef to be tenderized, and ripping down his real father's metalwork, then coming around at night to Samuel's little sister, same way Elbridge used to do, only this time, who would take the gun out of Johnny Jay's toolbox? Samuel had to. If he didn't, who would?
So he watched Katherine and the little girl drive away in the old blue Toyota, and he was thinking, No. You will not leave me behind. I will never let you go.
John Zedman had made it to his knees. He hunched over the fireplace, his smashed mouth swelling, his lips red and wet as a whore's. “I'm b'eeding. You hit me.”
“Get up,” Samuel told him.
“Won't get . . . the money.”
Samuel scooped a pack of Kleenex from the table, tossed it at Zedman. “Put that on your mouth. Then get the fuck up.”
Zedman pressed the whole wedge of tissues to his lip. Samuel watched the blood soak through, knowing that he should be moving things along, that time was not on his side, but Katherine's voice was still in his head, talking about flowers coming back after you tried to kill them, pleading with him that Zedman had paid enough already. Samuel should get the account numbers and leave. He could be on a plane tonight, him and Race. They could watch the sun come up tomorrow over Puerto Vallarta. Why add more voices in his head?
He looked at one of Zedman's paintings, the glass turning gold in the sunset, and the reflection he saw wasn't his face. It was Talia—frightened, uncertain, always ready to scurry into the darkness like a cockroach. Samuel lifted his pistol, fired a round into the reflection.
When the ringing died down in his ears, he said quietly, “Get to the bathroom, John. You got one upstairs, right?”
John was still blinking from the gunshot. He had the look of a Black Level kid—that moment when the enforcer brings out the bag for the first time.
“What are you going to do?” he asked. “The disc—you said it was about Chadwick.”
Samuel had forgotten all about the DVD. Now he held it up, trying not to smile at his own private joke. “You want to see a movie, John? Get on upstairs—I'm sure you got a player in your bedroom, right?”
He twitched the barrel of the gun toward the stairs.
Unsteadily, Zedman rose, the Kleenex keeping the blood from dripping too much—a crooked trail across the living room, up the carpeted stairs, Samuel thinking all the way that this was not as neat as he'd planned. He wouldn't have time to clean this shit up.
Let him go, Katherine whispered. Get the numbers and just leave.
At the top of the stairs, Zedman hesitated.
Samuel said, “Don't.”
“Whatever you were just thinking. 'Less you want to be shot in the back.”
Zedman swayed, then turned left, into the master bedroom.
Wasn't Samuel's kind of room. High ceilings and no windows. Too many pictures on the wall, too many mirrors. A good television, though—DVD player, sure enough. Through the open bathroom door he could see a big square tub, maroon tiles.
“Mallory,” John said. “Tell me she's safe.”
Samuel went to the television, slipped the disc in the machine. When the movie came on, Zedman's face got sleepy with bewilderment. Then he began to understand, gradually. Samuel could see it in his eyes.
“Please,” John said.
“Tell you how they do it at Cold Springs,” Samuel said. “Cold Springs's all about compliance. You earn privileges by doing exactly what you're told. You understand what I'm saying, John?”
“The account numbers are in my computer. I can show you.”
“Oh yeah, but see—I'm too stupid to work this all by myself, right? I wouldn't have the first clue.”
John's eyes were moist with defeat, shame. He was ready for the gag, for solitary confinement—for whatever punishment the instructors threw at him. He said, eagerly, “It just takes a phone call. The account numbers, I can show you. The password on the computer—it's Ferryboat*, with an asterisk, last character. Capital F.”
“Get in the bathroom.”
Zedman hesitated, and Samuel advanced on him, forcing him back step by step until Zedman stood in front of the toilet.
“Well?” Samuel said. “Use it.”
Zedman looked at the pot, then back at Samuel. “What?”
“You heard me.”
Samuel pressed the gun against Zedman's shoulder. “You already bleeding all over the place, John. I don't want any more to clean up later, you understand me?”
John took a piss—a good long one. Samuel was amused by the little shriveled thing he used, too. I mean, damn. All that self-importance, all that strutting—it made sense when the man dropped his drawers.
“You do that real well, like you've been practicing,” Samuel told him. “Now get in the tub.”
“You'll never get the money, if you kill me.”
“Why would that be, John? You ain't told me the whole truth about those codes? Is that cooperation?”
Zedman stared at the water swirling in the toilet.
“I heard you a woman-slapper, John. You want me to hit you again, remind you how it feels? Get in the tub, bitch.”
He pushed Zedman back, watched him stumble into the tub.
“Stay on your knees,” Samuel said. “I like that.”
Samuel pulled the shower curtain closed as much as possible, making mental notes about the tiles, how the blood splatters would go.
“Don't,” Zedman said.
Samuel turned on the shower, watched the way it splattered in John's half-dazed face, rinsing the blood into a pink swirl—like Talia's bathroom, Talia's blood, only Zedman was still alive, still listening.
“Your daughter's life, John. I haven't decided if you get to keep that privilege, yet. You think you've cooperated?”